It's no secret that sustainability is taking center stage when it comes to overarching topics within the aviation industry. Nearly every conference has dedicated tracks while the biggest travel publishers consistently churn out content on the topic.

While electric and hydrogen-powered aircraft grab a lot of headlines, such advances in technology and adoption of that technology are many years away. A more practical solution (especially in the shorter term) because it doesn't require such a gigantic leap forward is sustainable aviation fuel (SAF).

SAF Market is on the Rise

One of the biggest advantages of SAF is that it has similar properties to conventional jet fuel but has a smaller carbon footprint, so operationally speaking, not a lot needs to be changes, which makes adoption easier.

SAF is typically made from renewable resources such as used cooking oil, municipal waste and biomass and can potentially reduce lifecycle emissions by up to 80% compared to conventional aviation fuel.

"The SAF market is expected to increase from $216 million to more than $14 billion by 2030."

According to a new report by market research firm The Brainy Insights, the SAF market is projected to grow exponentially. The SAF market is expected to increase from $216 million to more than $14 billion by 2030.

Spurring on the rise is increasing demand due to more air travelers and more aircraft and increasing production of SAF because of the availability and low cost of “wet waste” feedstock such as food waste, animal manure, and other high-water-content materials.

Other market drivers cited in the report include rising private and governmental support and aviation goals to reduce carbon emissions.

This is a very promising sign as one of the biggest current obstacles is lack of supply. For example, biojet (one type of SAF), is produced using feedstocks such as used cooking oils that are not readily available. Because of this, biojet makes up less than 1% of fuel currently used within the aviation industry.

Fascinatingly, military aviation currently represents the largest share of SAF users in the market because of defense budgets and governmental initiatives. However, it will be surpassed in 2030 by commercial aviation, with increasing passenger load being a major driver.

A Push Towards Net-Zero Carbon Emissions

Of course all of this is in relation to a much larger picture. Lead by IATA, the aviation sector has a goal to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.

“The world’s airlines have taken a momentous decision to ensure that flying is sustainable. The post-COVID-19 re-connect will be on a clear path towards net zero. That will ensure the freedom of future generations to sustainably explore, learn, trade, build markets, appreciate cultures and connect with people the world over.

With the collective efforts of the entire value chain and supportive government policies, aviation will achieve net zero emissions by 2050,” said Willie Walsh, IATA’s Director General.

This will be no small feat as passenger demand will rise significantly by 2050. According to IATA 10 billion passengers will be flying by 2050, which means at least 1.8 gigatons of carbon must be abated in that year, while a cumulative total of 21.2 gigatons of carbon must be abated between now and 2050.

"Aviation will achieve net zero emissions by 2050."

SAF will play a major role in achieving these goals. IATA has set in place the following milestones relating to SAF:

  • 2025: With appropriate government policy support, SAF production is expected to reach 7.9 billion liters (2% of total fuel requirement)
  • 2030: SAF production is 23 billion liters (5.2% of total fuel requirement). ANSPs have fully implemented the ICAO Aviation System Block Upgrades and regional programs such as the Single European Sky
  • 2035: SAF production is 91 billion liters (17% of total fuel requirement). Electric and/or hydrogen aircraft for the regional market (50-100 seats, 30-90 min flights) become available
  • 2040: SAF production is 229 billion liters (39% of total fuel requirement). Hydrogen aircraft for the short-haul market (100-150 seats, 45-120 min flights) become available.
  • 2045: SAF production is 346 billion liters (54% of total fuel requirement).
  • 2050: SAF production hits 449 billion liters (65% of total fuel requirement).

“SAF will fuel the majority of aviation’s global emissions mitigation in 2050," said Walsh.