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Is Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF) the Answer?

Governments are taking steps to discourage the usage of crop-based biofuels in maritime transport to avoid the creation of a potentially large demand for food and feed crop-based biofuels, bioliquids and biomass fuels.

However, it is questionable whether Sustainable Aviation Fuels (SAF) can be produced in sufficient quantities to meet the increasing demand for aviation fuel.

Will there be sufficient SAF available to make a substantial dent in the carbon footprint?

Recent research by The Royal Society suggests that 68% of British agricultural land would be required to cover the 12.3m tonnes of fuel demanded annually by airlines in the UK alone, depending on the crop.

Airlines are exploring partial solutions, such as larger aircraft with more seats, but air cargo may require more radical changes to the footprint of aircraft or new 'flying wing' designs.

The Aviation Environment Foundation warns that the window of time for effective climate action is shrinking, and carbon accounting mistakes cannot be afforded.

“Despite unequivocal demand signals, the SAF production market is not developing fast enough.” Willie Walsh, IATA’s director general

“We need SAF everywhere in the world, and to that end the right supportive policies – policies that can stimulate production, promote competition, foster innovation, and attract financing – must be put in place today,” he confirmed.

As government and business officials gather in Dubai for COP28, it is clear that the climate aims of the summit will be as much of a patchwork as the Sustainable Aviation Fuel supply chains, and there is a risk that expanding the use of SAF could do more harm than good.

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