UK aviation industry group calls on government to share its vision for a sustainable fuels future

UK aviation industry group calls on government to share its vision for a sustainable fuels future | Jonathon Counsell

Wed 3 Dec 2014 – UK aviation and aerospace industry group Sustainable Aviation has unveiled a roadmap identifying a potential for between five and 12 plants in the UK producing up to 640,000 tonnes of sustainable aviation fuels by 2030 that could support the creation of 4,400 jobs and generate an economic value of around £265 million ($415m). The group estimates a modest take-up in UK volumes in the period to 2030 with a more rapid ramping up of production beyond, although it says this will depend on emerging technologies and early support from government. With the right policy and investment framework, UK aviation can reduce its CO2 emissions by up to 24% by 2050 through the deployment of sustainable alternative fuels, claims the group.


“The UK aviation industry is committed to reducing its impact on the environment and the Sustainable Fuels UK Road-Map not only demonstrates an additional way for us to do so but also identifies a new industry that could supply thousands of jobs and hundreds of million pounds to our economy,” said Jonathon Counsell, Chair of Sustainable Aviation (SA), which launched the roadmap at a House of Commons event yesterday. “The UK should seize on its leadership in global aerospace and aviation and maintain this country’s competitive advantage to boost investment in science, deliver increased jobs for the UK and produce significant emissions reductions.”


This new sustainable fuels roadmap follows an earlier roadmap published by SA in 2012 that set out to demonstrate UK aviation could accommodate significant growth to 2050 without a substantial increase in absolute CO2 emissions. It estimated that by 2050 sustainable fuels could offer between a 15% and 24% reduction in UK aviation CO2 emissions – with a probable level of 18% – based on a 25-40% global penetration of such fuels and life-cycle CO2 savings of 60% compared with fossil fuels. Given recent developments of such fuels, SA has undertaken a more detailed assessment of their contribution, including pathways towards commercialisation and the economic and policy conditions to maximise potential.


However, acknowledges SA, it is inherently difficult to forecast the size and shape of a new supply market that is in its infancy, and the group calls for incentives and help from policy-makers. “Inevitably the technical potential for this new industry will be realised only if governments support the development of sustainable fuel supply chains,” says the roadmap report.


The industry is calling for a ‘level playing field’ with road transport biofuels through allowing sustainable aviation fuel producers to similarly claim UK Renewable Transport Fuels Obligation (RTFO) certificates. Under the RTFO, SA estimates that for every tonne of sustainable biofuel produced by fuel suppliers for road transport they receive an incentive worth between £130 and £190 ($200-300), which can be passed on.


 “We believe this can be achieved very simply and will not involve any additional cost to road users and no subsidy from government,” said Counsell.


The industry group also wants support in the financing of projects through institutions such as the Green Investment Bank, which involves risk underwriting by government. Priority should also be given to dedicated R&D into sustainable aviation fuels, it suggests, and recommends the establishment of a public-private sector enterprise similar to the Commercial Aviation Alternative Fuels Initiative (CAAFI) operating in the United States.


UK government backing for aviation biofuels has so far been lukewarm, but the industry has recently joined a task force set up following an announcement last year by the Department for Transport of a £25 million ($40m) grant towards demonstration scale advanced fuels projects in the UK, with an application process due to get underway early next year.


At the roadmap launch, Shadow Aviation Minister Gordon Marsden said the initiative was a crucial part of the process in reducing emissions and accommodating sustainable aviation growth. He said the call for a level playing field with other transport fuels was “absolutely right” and expressed concern that the UK had missed opportunities in the past to commercialise new renewable technologies. There was also a role for public-private partnerships such as CAAFI in the United States, he said, which would be looked at with colleagues in other government departments.


“The challenge is now for ministers and policy-makers to work more closely with the industry to make sure initiatives such as this are encouraged,” he added. “The UK must be a leader in this area and there is a role for government as a promoter, in bringing together the players and as an enthusiast. You won’t find us lacking in our support.”


The roadmap sees technology pathways limited to waste-derived fuels until 2020 in respect of UK production with only British Airways’ municipal solid waste project with Solena and the LanzaTech alcohol-to-jet (ATJ) partnership with Virgin Atlantic likely to prove feasible in the near-term (see table below). In the 2020-2030 timeframe, opportunities are expected to open up for ATJ fuels from lignocellulosic biomass, pyrolysis-derived fuels and so-called SIP (synthesised iso-paraffinic) fuels from hydroprocessed fermented sugars.


By 2030, around 13 million tonnes of sustainable aviation fuel could be produced globally, says SA, with around 640,000 tonnes coming from the UK. “And this is just the start,” believes Counsell. “By 2050, UK volumes could reach 4.5 million tonnes with significant similar increases in the number of jobs and economic value.”




Sustainable Aviation

Sustainable Aviation – Sustainable Fuels UK Road-Map (pdf)



SA’s projected UK sustainable aviation fuel production to 2050:





Estimated timeframes for technology pathways and UK production potential:







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