Sustainable aviation fuel (SAF), an alternative jet fuel produced from waste plant or animal material, is recognized by experts as the most promising solution to accelerate the aviation sector’s transition to a low-carbon future. With the potential of reducing lifecycle emissions by up to 80% compared to conventional jet fuel, SAF has become the industry’s primary pathway for reaching its net-zero emissions target by 2050. However, in order to achieve that goal, production and adoption must ramp up exponentially.
As the International Air Transport Association (IATA) noted at its general meeting in Doha, Qatar, in June, just 33 million gallons of SAF was produced in 2021, which accounts for less than 0.1% of jet fuel worldwide. For the airline industry to achieve its net-zero ambition, the trade group says at least 118 billion gallons of SAF must be produced by 2050.
“The industry used every single available drop of sustainable fuel last year, and we will use every single drop this year. And we would use more if it was available,” said Willie Walsh, head of IATA, at the event.
At the center of the SAF shortage is a “chicken and egg” conundrum. Due to its high cost (currently, SAF is two to eight times more expensive than jet fuel), demand from airlines has been low. With low demand, it’s difficult for SAF suppliers to invest in additional production facilities and technology that would bring down the price.
To end the cyclical nature of the problem, we must all work together – SAF suppliers, airlines, travel providers, and customers – to ignite large-scale production and usage. That’s the design of a SAF program we’re piloting this year.
Along with Shell and Accenture, we announced the launch of Avelia, one of the world’s first blockchain-powered digital book-and-claim solutions for SAF, at an event in June in Doha targeted to airlines and another in London with a corporate focus. Developed by Shell and Accenture, with the support of the Energy Web Foundation, the platform will use our world-leading travel management services to aggregate global business demand, drawing from our 19,000 clients from around the world.
Business travel represents a significant and concentrated proportion of global air travel and could play a pivotal role in fueling demand for SAF and leading the transition towards net-zero aviation. With companies co-funding the premium price of SAF, airlines will be able to purchase more SAF, allowing suppliers to invest more in production facilities and technologies and ultimately driving down the cost.
Avelia enables companies pursuing science-based and net-zero targets to invest in SAF in pursuit of their sustainability goals. Through their participation, corporates can cut emissions from business travel and monitor and report how SAF adoption is helping them achieve their climate action plans – even when SAF isn’t available at the airport where their travelers are flying from.
Speaking on a panel at the launch event in Doha, Nora Lovell Marchant, vice president of global sustainability, Amex GBT, said, “We consistently hear feedback from our corporate customers that their travelers want to know that the seat that they’re sitting in has SAF in the tank, but that’s actually not how it works. And that’s the beauty of SAF. SAF is blended with conventional jet fuel. SAF is displacing fossil-based jet fuel, so we don’t want to establish an entirely separate fueling infrastructure just so we can trace where the SAF goes into the airplane. That’s not helpful, that’s not cost-effective, and that will make SAF prohibitively expensive forever.”
In order to meet corporate needs to track and justify SAF investments, Avelia uses a book-and-claim system that enables companies to claim the benefits from SAF’s environmental attributes, no matter which airplanes are using the fuel they purchased. In Avelia, you can see the emissions saved from the production and use of SAF as compared to conventional jet fuel, proof of ownership, and transparent tracing of the environmental attributes. Because of the platform’s blockchain technology, you can be confident the data has been tracked, verified, and there’s no double counting.
Shell, Accenture, Amex GBT, and Aon insurance company are the first customers of Avelia. This year, we’re inviting other airlines and corporates to join us in this initiative that will help drive industry change and companies advance their sustainability goals.