SAF 101: The Early Outlook for Sustainable Aviation Fuels

The Commercial Aviation industry is prepped for growth as the world comes out of the pandemic. Aviation fuel consumption is expected to increase faster than any other liquid transportation fuel. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, the global commercial jet fuel market is predicted to grow from 106 billion gallons a year to more than 230 billion gallons by 2050.

This growth presents heightened opportunities to curb the impacts of the industry’s CO2 emissions. Currently, greenhouse gas emissions from the aviation industry make up about 2% of all human-induced emissions globally. In October 2021, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) announced plans to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, and that’s where sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) comes into play.

Incorporating SAF while supporting growing air traffic demands worldwide is challenging, but Argus Consulting is prepared to be part of the solution.

“We’ve been part of putting fuel on planes for decades,” said Kent Bredehoeft, President and CEO of Argus Consulting. “We understand the importance of fuel logistics and supply chain availability and intend to help our aviation clients reliably and safely load planes with SAF as the industry looks to fulfill its decarbonization goals.”


What is SAF?

Sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) is made from alternative feedstocks instead of being refined from crude oil. These feedstocks include biomass, municipal solid waste (MSW), oils, fats, sugars and others. New chemical processes can produce fuel from non-biological sources, so we use the term SAF instead of biofuels.

Sustainable aviation fuel can lower CO₂ emissions by up to 80% compared with regular jet fuel, depending on the source of renewable feedstock. According to IATA, SAF is expected to contribute about 65% of the emissions reductions needed in 2050 to achieve net-zero carbon emissions for the commercial aviation industry.


Do airplanes have to be reconfigured to use SAF?

SAF is a “drop-in fuel” that meets ASTM D7566, Standard Specification for Aviation Turbine Fuel Containing Synthesized Hydrocarbons, and is regarded as meeting ASTM D1655, Standard Specification for Aviation Turbine Fuels. SAF is currently blended with petroleum-based jet fuel and then recertified to meet ASTM D1655.  SAF’s chemical and physical properties are considered identical to traditional jet fuel, and it can be used in existing aircraft engines and infrastructure. As a drop-in fuel, SAF can use the same supply infrastructure and does not require modification of the aircraft or aircraft engines. Because of its reduced particulate matter, using SAF can add to the life of aging aircraft engines.


How common is SAF?

The first test flight using blended biofuel was completed in 2008 by Virgin Atlantic. And in 2021, United Airlines flew its first passenger flight using 100% drop-in SAF. But SAF is still only available in limited quantities in the United States. Growth and scalability are constrained by the availability of feedstocks and production technologies. Moving from fossil fuel to SAF will require a significant increase in production and improved distribution strategies, requiring up-front investment by both airlines and governments.

Currently, SAF is more expensive than traditional jet fuel, but airlines are eager to use it to help meet their decarbonization goals. More than 45 airlines worldwide have used SAF on more than 370,000 flights since 2016. Additionally, the U.S. Air Force is expanding its use of SAF, starting with a successful experimental flight in 2010.

Blended fuels containing 50% SAF were first allowed in commercial flights in 2011; by 2020, airline companies in the United States were using about 4.6 million gallons of SAF annually.


What does the future look like for SAF?

In 2019, just 0.1% of fuel was SAF. IATA considers it an essential element for reducing the aviation industry’s carbon footprint; it is aiming for a 2% market penetration by 2025, with more than 2.1 billion gallons of SAF being produced globally. By 2050, the goal is that 50% of aviation turbine fuel will be SAF.


What is Argus’ role?

We bring energy to the world through safe, innovative, and sustainable engineering solutions. As the largest fuel systems engineering firm in the United States, Argus designs and builds fuel infrastructure for commercial and general aviation airports, marine and railroad facilities, and military installations. We’re an industry leader in designing facilities to store, transport and dispense many types of fuel, including alternative fuels. It’s our goal to help support our clients’ sustainability goals.

We have experience with several alternative fuel projects and our clients often consult us on how SAF can be integrated at their airports. We worked with Sea-Tac airport in Seattle, the Port of Seattle, Alaska Airlines, and the Boeing Company to identify sites based upon truck, marine, rail, and pipeline delivery that could support the receipt, blending, storage and delivery infrastructure required to supply Sea-Tac with up to 50 million gallons of SAF per year, doubling to 100 million after 2025. We analyzed multiple points along the supply chain to determine the most cost-effective solution that also allowed for growth, as the supply and delivery method of SAF will change with increasing volumes.

Our firm composed a planning report for supply chain logistics, refinery site plan coordination, associated costs and recommendations for a leading biofuels energy company, a pioneer in making low-carbon, low-cost, alternative transportation fuels. And we worked with San Francisco International Airport to lead a feasibility study researching current SAF market opportunities, infrastructure and site needs, evaluating fuel consumption, enplanements and operations data, and financial mechanisms to ensure affordable SAF in the future. Our team developed 14 conceptual designs throughout the Bay Area to summarize the fuel supply chain options that could potentially serve SFO.

“We are the strategic thinking partner for our airline clients as they find ways to reduce their carbon footprint while increasing the number of flights they manage,” Bredehoeft said. “We rethink the infrastructure that allows SAF to be delivered in quantity, helping airlines reach their low-carbon goals while maintaining their bottom line.”

Our work in fuel systems keeps more than 100 domestic and international airports running efficiently. SAF is part of the future of aviation. We will help our clients make informed, strategic decisions about integrating SAF into the supply chain and ultimately to the aircraft because we know the infrastructure, the equipment and the people.