New Focus on SAF in UK's 'Green Industrial Revolution'

 - November 19, 2020, 9:11 AM

The UK is considering a mandate requiring the use of sustainable aviation fuels (SAF) from 2025. As part of a plan for a so-called Green Industrial Revolution announced by UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson on November 18, the government said it will consult on a “possible mandate” in 2021.

Aviation and maritime were just one combined item in a 10-point plan covering multiple sectors that also include road vehicles and domestic heating systems. Most of the section on aviation simply referred back to announcements made earlier this year under the new JetZero program.

However, £21 million ($27.7 million) in new funding is being made available to support “difficult-to-decarbonize industries to become greener through research projects for zero-emissions planes.” Next year, the government will run a £15 million competition to support production of SAF. This will run in tandem with a consultation over the proposed SAF mandate.

A further £3 million is being made available to establish a “clearing house” to certify new fuels. Another £3 million is earmarked for investments in research and development infrastructure, including recharging and refueling equipment for airports to prepare for a switch to electric and hydrogen power.

Officials with the Department for Transport said that they will now work with industry representatives to agree on how best to implement the new programs and, specifically, how companies can participate. The SAF development competition will "build on the work" of the earlier Future Fuels for Flights and Freight Competition, providing funding for engineering work to develop "demonstrator or commercial scale" SAF production plants. From early in 2021, both new and existing SAF projects will be able to apply for a share of the £15 million fund. 

Two days ahead of the announcement, UK aviation industry CEOs from the Sustainable Aviation group published an open letter to Johnson urging him to provide support in three areas that they see as critical to achieving so-called net-zero flight (i.e. producing no greenhouse gases). Apart from help making SAF available, they asked for more support for developing electric, hybrid, and hydrogen-powered aircraft, as well as the completion of airspace modernization.

Specifically, with regard to SAF, the CEOs requested targeted loan guarantees and capital grants to support the development of up to 14 plants in the UK producing sustainable fuel from household and industrial waste by the 2030s. According to the government, up to 5,200 jobs could be generated by the supply of SAF to UK airports and aircraft operators.

The letter’s 22 signatories included CEOs from airlines, airports, and aerospace manufacturers, as well as air traffic control and other service providers.