Sustainable aviation fuel output tripled in 2022 — but it's still small

Suppliers will produce at least 79 million gallons of sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) this year, according to the latest IATA estimate, tripling output from 2021.

More optimistic calculations estimate that as much as 119 million gallons of SAF will have been produced in 2022 once all production is tabulated. “Both scenarios position the SAF industry on the verge of an exponential capacity and production ramp-up,” IATA said.

To meet industry goals, such a ramp-up will be needed.

The airline industry has committed to reaching net zero carbon emissions by 2050, and IATA envisions 65% of the reduction coming via the use of SAF. In the shorter term, close to 30 major airlines have set their sights on scaling up SAF usage to 10% of total fuel consumption by 2030, according to a study published in August by BloombergNEF. The Biden administration has also set a 10% SAF consumption target for U.S. aviation by 2030, as well as annual domestic SAF production of 3 billion gallons by that time.

As this year’s numbers indicate, the early ramp-up has begun. Since 2021, numerous multinational energy companies have delivered their first SAF batches, including BP, Chevron, Repsol and Phillips 66. BloombergNEF estimates that 2.6 billion gallons will be produced annually by 2026, a figure that would account for 2% of global airline fuel consumption.

However, ratcheting up SAF production to the level that will be necessary for the airline industry to meet its net zero commitment will be extraordinarily costly.

The UN’s aviation arm, the International Civil Aviation Organization, estimates a combined cost to airlines and fuel producers of $7.2 trillion to fully replace conventional jet fuel by 2040.

To put the 2022 number of 119 millions of gallons of SAF in perspective, the total jet-fuel consumption in 2019 was 95 billion gallons.

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