Sustainable aviation fuel: is it a solution?

On Tuesday, November 28, 2023, the first transatlantic flight using sustainable aviation fuel took off from London Airport. The flight was destined for New York City. Sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) was used to power Virgin Atlantic’s Boeing 787, which flew on a test trip without paying passengers. It is the first flight that uses 100% this type of biokerosene to cover a transatlantic route.

sustainable aviation fuel

Sustainable aviation fuel helps reduce carbon footprint

The plane is equipped with two Rolls-Royce Trent 1000 jets and took off from Heathrow Airport at 11:30 a.m. This flight demonstrates that sustainable fuel is a safe substitute for fossil fuels.

SAF is a fuel that is composed of a mixture of 88% esters and processed fatty acids (HEFA), with 12% synthetic aromatic kerosene (SAK). HEFA is extracted from residual fats, while SAK is produced from the distillation of vegetable sugars.

The objective of carrying out the flight was to raise awareness in the aeronautical world of the feasibility of this biofuel. Also to increase SAF production as a replacement for fossil fuels and thus attract investors.

At the moment, the production of this aeronautical biofuel is very expensive. The goal is to achieve the objectives set out in NET Zero 2050, an EU commitment to reduce the carbon footprint to zero by that year.

Is it an ecological flight or not?

The flight was named Flight 100 and wants to demonstrate that decarbonization is possible in passenger transport. However, environmental groups call this flight greenwashing.

A group called Stay Grounded claims the company uses misleading claims to show the public that its activities are green. Both the company that owns the plane and the one that provides the fuel are the same owner. In turn, Magdalena Heuwieser, leader of the environmental group, assures that the ecological flight of an airplane hides 100 thousand flights with fossil fuels.

Reduce carbon footprint

Greenpeace also issued its opinion on this first flight with sustainable fuel. The opinion is that the production of this new biokerosene is very limited, since the waste that is used as raw material to produce this fuel is not available on the scale necessary to supply flights worldwide. Furthermore, the production cost is exaggeratedly high.

Finlay Asher, an aerospace engineer who worked for the Rolls-Royce company, says that the production process for sustainable aviation fuel is “a dead end.” Since at the moment, there is only a way to expand production to supply a small percentage of current commercial aviation use.

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