Charting a Path to Cleaner Skies with EDF’s New Sustainable High Integrity Aviation Fuels (SAF) Handbook

This blog post was written by Pedro Piris-CabezasDirector of Sustainable International Transportation and Senior Economist at Environmental Defense Fund.

The sun rises above the clouds seen from an airplane window

Although humans were not biologically built to take flight, innovation, invention and science have brought us to take flight. Through flight, we are connected to an international community. We can keep our loved ones on another continent. We can help move our global economy. We can establish relationships between cultures.

But the power of flight comes at a price: aviation is responsible for 3.5% of human-caused climate change impacts. If it were a country, aviation would be one of the top 10 greenhouse gas emitters in the world. Communities living near airports also bear the brunt of air pollution from air and car traffic.

There is, however, a solution that can clean up the future of flight. By switching to high integrity sustainable aviation fuel (SAF), we have the opportunity to reduce the climate impact of the aviation sector.

SAF is a fuel that can be produced from a variety of sources, or “feedstocks,” and blended with conventional jet fuel to power aircraft. It can be produced from biofuels made from waste such as used cooking oil or agricultural waste or from synthetic e-fuels made from excess renewable electricity, water and carbon monoxide at direct air intake. However, not all SAFs are created equal, and only SAFs produced with high integrity can help create a more sustainable future.

When SAF is produced with high integrity, which means it credibly reduces emissions compared to traditional fossil jet fuel, adheres to strong environmental and social safeguards, and is accurately accounted for to avoid double counting of emissions reductions. emissions, it can significantly reduce the climate impact of flight. .

But while high-integrity SAF holds tremendous promise, there are many hurdles blocking our journey to net-zero aviation. On the one hand, navigating the SAF landscape is complex.

It can be challenging for individual travellers, businesses that depend on air travel, airlines and policy makers looking to identify what high integrity SAF is and how to move forward to reduce their emissions related to flight. To help these stakeholders take smart, future-proof action to advance high-integrity SAF, EDF has created a comprehensive guide to the new sustainable fuel.

After eight years of research and analysis, EDF has published the High Integrity SAF Handbook. The handbook is a resource that can help fuel producers, airlines, policy makers, investors and businesses understand and identify high integrity SAFs, create effective policy to support high integrity SAFs, and invest in the transition to high integrity SAFs. It provides clear guidance and insight into some of the toughest obstacles to decarbonizing the way we fly.

Microsoft Corporation is a model company to support the advancement of SAF in its climate strategy. The company has been a long-time leader in advancing SAF and has actively contributed to the thinking behind this handbook through successful cooperation with EDF since 2019. In the foreword to the handbook, the heads of the sustainability team from Microsoft explain how the company intends to support High Integrity SAF in its own efforts to become carbon negative by 2030.

There is increased corporate momentum on carbon reduction commitments. But for all that energy to help achieve climate stability in an efficient and transparent way, we need to accelerate the maturation and adoption of industry standards for carbon accounting,” said Lucas Joppa, director of environment, and Julia Fidler, group sustainability manager, purchasing, Microsoft Corporation, in a foreword to the handbook. “This handbook provides a solid foundation to help build a resilient sustainability and accounting framework for sustainable aviation fuels that can guide investment decisions while avoiding stranded assets and unintended consequences on ecosystems and people. .

As well as providing guidance for businesses, the handbook also identifies three key ways for policymakers, in particular, to chart the course towards net zero aviation:

  1. Support the production of high integrity SAF by guaranteeing only raw materials with low indirect land use change (ILUC) risk are eligible for financial support. A low ILUC risk means that production of the SAF feedstock does not divert edible crops or land used to grow food, or contribute to deforestation or habitat destruction. By focusing on sustainably produced AFS, policymakers can ensure we get the greatest climate benefit while protecting forests from being cleared for new agricultural land and supporting food security by ensuring that food is not diverted.
  1. Leverage financial support for high integrity SAFs that deliver the highest emissions reductions. Not all SAFs have the same potential to deliver significant climate benefits. Policymakers can and should ensure that investments are channeled to the SAFs that offer the highest emission reductions, as these will provide the most cost-effective route.
  1. Support processes to avoid double counting and ensure SAF emission reductions are properly accounted for. Policy makers can prepare to properly account for the use of SAFs and prevent double counting by supporting the development of robust and transparent registries.

The barriers to decarbonizing aviation are tough, but EDF’s new handbook provides clear direction for leveraging SAF’s high integrity climate promise. By re-channeling our human innovation, inventions, and science, we can pave the way to cleaner, healthier ways to fly.

To read the High Integrity SAF Manual, click here.

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