The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) will hold its second Conference on Alternative Aviation Fuels in Mexico City this week, bringing together experts from governments, industry and civil society to discuss the growing use of sustainable aviation fuel for commercial air transport.
Michael Gill, Executive Director of the cross-industry Air Transport Action Group (ATAG) said that the development of sustainable aviation fuel was a key component of the industry's climate action plan: "Our industry has recognised our vital obligation to deliver a more efficient system, balancing serving the world economy – particularly in fast-growing developing nations – with the need to meet the climate challenge. We have been looking at a whole range of opportunities to improve efficiency, with one of the most promising long-term prospects being sustainable aviation fuel. We are at the early stages of a new energy revolution in air transport, but the next decade will be crucial in making sure that aviation is able to take full advantage of it."
As part of the ICAO conference, delegates will debate a vision of how sustainable aviation fuels can develop. The industry supports a mid-term vision of 2% of all international jet fuel being from sustainable sources by 2025. Gill comments: "This is within touching distance and achievable. We can then assess how the work to get there has progressed before setting ourselves – and governments – a longer-term goal for even more significant uptake. Analysis has shown that up to 100% of the fuel in 2050 could be from sustainable sources with the right policy measures in place. It is vital that governments get on board with this and we urge all states to throw their support behind these new sources of fuel for aviation.
"Key to this entire project will be the need for any such energy source to be truly sustainable in nature. We do not want to repeat some of the mistakes made with earlier generations of 'biofuels' for road transport. In fact, the aviation industry has been very carefully approaching the move towards sustainable fuels. These should come from sources which have minimal impact on food crops, water use and forestry. Many of the opportunities lie in waste by-products being re-utilised. Key global airlines set the standard for this early on with the establishment of the Sustainable Aviation Fuels Users Group (SAFUG) and collaboration with environmental groups in the Roundtable on Sustainable Biomaterials (RSB)."
Since the first test flight on a commercial aircraft in February 2008, there have been over 40,000 commercial flights, with four global airports now supplying sustainable aviation fuel in the regular fuel supply system. The testing and certification process for fuels now has five 'pathways' for the production of the fuel and another four close to being certified for use in commercial flights. Airlines are investing billions of dollars in supporting the deployment of such fuels with forward purchase agreements totaling over 1.5 billion gallons announced so far, with more projects set to be announced in the coming months.