What is Sustainable Aviation Fuel and how is it made? And how does it get to the planes?
The first ever flight to use Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF) took off from Gatwick yesterday (Tuesday, October 19) in a momentous day for the airport.
It confirms the strong commitment of all parties involved - international aviation fuel supplier Q8Aviation, easyJet, Gatwick Airport Ltd and Neste – to achieve a net carbon emission reduction in the fuel used in aviation and work towards an ultimate goal for aviation to reach net zero emissions by 2050.
But what is Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF) and how is it made?
Well, Q8Aviation has delivered the first supply of Neste MY Sustainable Aviation Fuel to the fuel supply at Gatwick Airport.
Neste’s sustainable aviation fuel, which is fully certified, is produced from 100% renewable and sustainable waste and residue raw materials, such as used cooking oil and animal fat waste. In its neat form and over its life cycle, Neste MY Sustainable Aviation Fuel can achieve a reduction of up to 80% of greenhouse gas emissions compared to fossil jet fuel use.
The process starts with Neste-produced SAF which is blended with Jet A-1 fuel at a depot upstream of Gatwick Airport to create a drop-in fuel that is compatible with existing aircraft engines and the airport infrastructure, without requiring extra investment. Q8Aviation then deliver the fuel to the main storage tanks at Gatwick Airport for supply to easyJet aircraft via the airport’s hydrant system.
Ten years in the making
At the launch of the first flight from Gatwick to use SAF, we caught with Jonathan Wood who is responsible for Neste’s renewable aviation fuel business in Europe and Asia.
He explained how it all works.
He said: "The renewable jet fuel is chemically the same as fossil kerosene. We make it by gathering waste oil-based materials like cooking oil, animal fats and other bio-based waste materials.
"We then clean it, refine it and bring it back into circulation as jet fuel.
"It’s a bit like renewable diesel where basically recycling waste products than digging it out of the ground.
"It’s been in the works for 10 years but Neste made some decisions to invest in new production capacity and the gathering of the raw materials so we can bring it to market over the last year.
"We selling it to airlines in Europe, North America and Asia. It’s really taken off in the last year. There have previously been trials and demos but we are now supplying on a regular basis across those three regions.
"It’s fun and it’s a growth business but more importantly it’s playing right into the climate change agenda. We need to find circular solutions to avoid digging more fossil fuel out of the ground and putting carbon into circulation.
"I think this and other competitive companies are investing into making this kind of renewable jet fuel and we have a big job ahead of us.
"It’s key to ensuring we ultimately don't want to add to our carbon emissions, quite the opposite, we want to reduce them and this kind of sustainable aviation fuel has the added advantage that it has lower particulates and actually not from a lower carbon point of view but from the view of how beneficial it will be to local climate and the bigger climate change agenda."
Of the 42 flights running Neste MY Sustainable Aviation Fuel blend, 39 of these will be the easyJet flights operating from Gatwick to Glasgow throughout the COP26 Climate Change Conference, which runs from October 31 to November 12.
Across all 42 flights CO2 emissions will have been reduced by up to 70 tonnes which further signals the industry’s intentions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions on a course to reaching net zero emissions by 2050.