Major boost for UK biojet as government proposes to extend renewable transport fuel incentives to aviation
Wed 30 Nov 2016 – The UK aviation industry has welcomed a proposal by the government to extend one of its main policies for reducing greenhouse gas emissions from transport to include aviation, which could provide a major boost for future production of renewable aviation fuels in the country. Under the Renewable Transport Fuel Obligation (RTFO), tradable certificates (RTFCs) are awarded to suppliers of sustainable biofuel and have so far only applied to road transport. The RTFO requires that a certain percentage of road transport fuel is renewable and provides a valuable incentive for the biofuels industry which contributes towards meeting this obligation. However, in a consultation launched yesterday, the government says it is not proposing to provide a similar mandate for the supply of renewable aviation fuels given the market is still in its infancy. British Airways and Virgin Atlantic both have ambitions to open up local production of sustainable aviation fuels.
In its consultation document on a future strategy for UK low-carbon transport fuels, the Department for Transport (DfT) said the government wishes to promote the development of sustainable renewable fuel for aviation.
“As we transition to electric cars, we will continue to need low carbon liquid and gaseous fuels for decades to come, particularly to decarbonise transport sectors that are not as easy to electrify, such as planes and lorries,” says transport minister John Hayes in the foreword to the consultation.
The DfT says in terms of carbon reductions, biofuels delivered under the RTFO are the equivalent of taking over a million cars off UK roads each year. Under the proposal, renewable aviation fuels would be eligible for rewards in line with liquid road fuels, therefore 1 RTFC per litre, with double rewards for biofuels made from wastes and residues, as these advanced fuels are considered to be potentially more sustainable than crop-based fuels. All renewable aviation fuel will be required to meet sustainability criteria stipulated under the RTFO in order to be eligible for rewards.
The change of heart by the government to extend the RTFO to include renewable aviation fuels – which includes avgas used in light aircraft as well as aviation turbine fuel (avtur) for jet and turboprop aircraft – comes after a long campaign by the UK aviation industry.
“This is a welcome step-forward and could mean a more sustainable future for aviation in the UK and beyond,” commented Ian Jopson, Chair of the UK aviation industry group Sustainable Aviation. “We believe that producers of sustainable aviation fuel should be able to benefit from the new policy framework by allowing them to ‘opt-in’ to the system to receive credits. It is an exciting prospect and could lead to the UK taking a leading role in the production of sustainable jet fuel. We need to ensure that the new regulations do support innovation and attract investment in the UK.”
In a sustainable fuels roadmap published two years ago, research by Sustainable Aviation suggested UK policy support could lead to the creation of up to 12 operational sustainable jet fuel plants by 2030, creating up to 4,400 jobs and be worth up to £300 million ($375m) to the UK economy. It forecasts by 2050, such fuels could be expected to reduce UK aviation emissions by up to 24% and help deliver on the industry target of a 50% reduction in emissions over 2005 levels.
Last week, Willie Walsh, the CEO of British Airways parent International Airlines Group, said its project with Solena Fuels to build a plant in East London to produce renewable jet fuel from municipal solid waste had partly failed because of a lack of government support (see article). Anticipating the policy change, he said the airline was in discussions with other biofuel producers and a new project would be announced during 2017.
Commenting on the DfT proposal, Walsh said: “We welcome this consultation, which is long overdue. Road vehicles have been receiving financial incentives to develop alternative fuels for years whereas airlines – who currently depend on carbon-based fuels – receive nothing. Developing innovative solutions is crucial for the airline industry so it can grow sustainably. This will help the UK aviation industry to meet its committed carbon reduction targets and will also attract investment to build a jet biofuel plant, creating jobs and growth for the UK.”
Under the RTFO, converting municipal waste to biofuels could be eligible for double RTFC rewards, as could the technology being developed by the Virgin Atlantic partnership with LanzaTech to produce sustainable jet fuel from industrial waste gases.