July 15, 2019
Business aviation has always embraced technological innovation, from winglets, advanced aerodynamics and fuel-sipping engines to advanced avionics. The industry also has also long been dedicated to reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from aircraft, with a proven record of advances in carbon reduction.
This commitment to further CO2 reductions was codified in 2009 with the Business Aviation Commitment on Climate Change and a pledge to a 2% improvement in efficiency per year from 2010 until 2020, with carbon-neutral growth from 2020 onward and a 50% reduction in carbon emissions by 2050. One of the most promising avenues for reaching those goals with today’s fleet of business aircraft is through the use of sustainable alternative jet fuel (SAJF).
Multiple technology paths exist to produce such fuels from a range of sources, and innumerable flights over the past decade have consistently demonstrated the viability and benefits of SAJF. When blended with petroleum-based Jet-A at allowable levels – typically up to a 30% mix – SAJF meets the same industry standard (ASTM D1655) as straight jet fuel and is indistinguishable from the completely petroleum-based product. The only effects on aircraft performance are a cleaner burn and commensurate reduction of CO2 emissions. In other words: SAJF is jet fuel, pure and simple. And it’s ready for its day in the sun.
INDUSTRY COMES TOGETHER TO PROMOTE SAJF
In 2018, a coalition of international business aviation organizations released the Business Aviation Guide to the Use of Sustainable Alternative Jet Fuels, which outlines the pathway toward the adoption and use of SAJF, and established the online resource www.futureofsustainablefuel.com.
That was followed in January by the first wide-scale public demonstration of the fuel’s viability and safety at California’s Van Nuys Airport (VNY). Four FBOs fueled aircraft with SAJF from suppliers World Fuel Services and Avfuel, and the event included participation from the president pro-tem of the California Senate and the CEO of Los Angeles World Airports, who each expressed their support for this industry-wide, all-voluntary, private investment in research and innovation.
“Van Nuys was an incredible success, and as the representative for FBOs and fuel distributors, our support for this event was a natural fit,” said National Air Transportation Association (NATA) COO and General Counsel Tim Obitts. “We all have a responsibility to work together to address global warming and counter the public perception that business aviation is a major contributor to GHG emissions.”
The first SAJF demonstration day in Europe followed in May, held at Tag Farnborough London Airport ahead of the annual European Business Aviation Convention & Exhibition (EBACE) in Geneva, Switzerland. Those venues also hosted a variety of education sessions detailing SAJF use and availability, and Avfuel supplied Republic Airport (FRG) in Farmingdale, NY with SAJF for those flying to EBACE.
Additional SAJF events are planned, including demonstrations held in con-junction with NBAA’s Business Aviation Convention & Exhibition (NBAA-BACE) in Las Vegas, NV, Oct. 22-24.
“It’s great to see the progress made over the past year, beginning with publication of the guide last summer and continuing with the VNY event and others planned for the year ahead,” said Steve Csonka, executive director for the Commercial Aviation Alternative Fuels Initiative (CAAFI). “I’ve spent a large chunk of my career working in this field, and while there’s been significant interest for many years, broad adoption has not yet occurred.”
That disparity stems from a dearth of SAJF production capacity relative to straight Jet-A and biodiesel, which, in addition to limiting availability, also drives up per-gallon cost.
“It’s the chicken and the egg,” Csonka explained. “Companies want large SAJF production to support their use, and producers need offtake agreements for that feedstock and fuel production to obtain financing to support production of large quantities.”
OEMs Gulfstream and Bombardier have also driven industry awareness and adoption of SAJF. Both companies regularly promote SAJF in their customer communications and operator conferences, and the latter’s president, David Coleal, chairs GAMA’s Environmental Committee.
“Our industry committed to a really aggressive set of CO2 emissions-reduction goals back in 2009, and we’ve been deeply involved in this commitment,” said Bombardier Vice President of Marketing and Product Strategy Brad Nolen. “We’ve been tracking favorably with those goals as an industry, though unfortunately that’s come through less flying and fewer aircraft deliveries. We have some heavy lifting to do in order to meet those commitments at a more aggressive growth rate.”
Earlier this year, Gulfstream’s Long Beach, CA, facility sold 20,000 pounds of SAJF for use by a Gulfstream G550 flown by an unidentified U.S.-based company. The manufacturer also utilizes SAJF in its fleet of Field and Airborne Support Team aircraft, on company flights and during flight test-ing of new models.
“Business aviation represents a game-changing market for SAJF,” said Charles Etter, the company’s head of environmental and regulatory affairs and technical fellow. “Looking at the scale of what’s coming and how much fuel can be produced, it may be that the ultimate success of SAJF will come through business aviation, as we’re closer to the scale needed for production at the early stages.”
TRAILBLAZING OPERATORS NEEDED
With increased industry awareness of the benefits of SAJF, the key question remains how to increase the fuel’s availability. Keith Sawyer, Avfuel’s manager of alternative fuels, believes broader SAJF production is likely within the next 3-5 years.
“We feel very strongly that SAJF will be a reality and a product in the supply chain in the not-too-distant future,” said Sawyer. “It’s a very important offering for our customers to have, [and] we need to make sure business aviation is integrated into the solutions. It’s very important that associations like NBAA and NATA continue supporting education of their members on integration of SAJF into company, airport and FBO fuel farms and how SAJF may help support their own initiatives toward reducing their carbon footprints.”
Bombardier’s Nolen emphasized the need for such “trailblazers” to promote greater SAJF adoption. “A couple of big offtake agreements from Fortune 500 companies could change the whole industry,” he said. “Those who get involved now in this effort aren’t simply reducing their CO2 emissions; they’re launching an industry and set-ting the foundation for growth.”
“Van Nuys was a baby step,” said Etter, “but there’s been appreciable movement to spread awareness of SAJF over the past year, and that will only grow. FBOs are gaining comfort with stocking the fuel.”
Obitts further noted that SAJF helps business aircraft operators meet their own environmental commitments. “NATA and NBAA members are expressing an increased interest in SAJF,” he said. “I receive one or two calls per week from operators and FBOs wanting to use SAJF, and that helps convince producers that business aviation is a viable market.”
Csonka also noted a high level of interest in SAJF at a Seattle, WA, sustainable fuels event earlier this year.
“We had business aviation interests there, as well as NGOs (non-governmental organizations) working on the periphery to help others develop sustainable options,” said Csonka. “The hope is that we’ll be able to aggregate demand among groups slightly less sensitive to price issues to help producers get off the ground and going.
“We need those production examples,” said Csonka, “as proof of technology. It’s my hope that will unlock additional funding to support even greater production, and that’s when we’ll see the whole thing snowball.”
NBAA, OTHER GROUPS SUPPORT SAJF TAX INCENTIVES
Educating lawmakers about the benefits of sustainable alternative jet fuel (SAJF) is another key aspect to promoting its use as a safe and practical option for curbing aircraft carbon emissions. In April, NBAA joined with six other aviation groups to encourage leaders of the U.S. House Committee on Ways and Means to support extension of tax incentives on biodiesel and SAJF production.
“The U.S. aviation industry is committed to continuing to improve on our strong fuel-efficiency record and to further enhancing our nation’s energy security through various means, including the deployment of SAJF,” read the letter to commit-tee chair Richard Neal (D-MA-1) and ranking member Kevin Brady (R-TX-8). “But the biodiesel tax incentive remains critical to our efforts.”
While industry awareness about the benefits of SAJF has increased, thanks to extensive outreach initiatives by NBAA and others to promote its use in business aircraft, widespread adoption of the fuel remains curtailed by low production capacity – a situation tax incentives could help alleviate.
“We must scale-up supply and enhance cost-competitiveness to get the nascent SAJF industry over the cusp,” the letter added. “An extension of this credit will provide the industry with the stability necessary to continue investing in technology that will generate economic and environmental benefits with globally significant impacts.”