Expert Opinion

Green Horizons

PhD on the production costs, climate impact and future supply of SAF

Sierk de Jong (26) is a former SkyNRG employee, he started at the company as an intern in 2013 and later became part of the business development team. While part-time working for SkyNRG, Sierk finalized his PhD study “Green Horizons” at Utrecht University. His PhD defense was on Friday, June 15th, and SkyNRG was there to celebrate and ask him some questions.

What is the topic of your thesis? And what are the most important conclusions?

My thesis focused on the production costs, climate impact and future supply of sustainable aviation fuel (SAF). When I started four years ago, there was a need for a broad overview of the economic and environmental performance of renewable jet fuel technologies. We found that the production costs of renewable jet fuels are currently 2-3 times higher than fossil jet fuel. New technologies, more experience and optimized supply chains can cut costs by almost 50% in the coming decade, thereby bringing price parity within reach. We used these analyses to make quantitative projections of the future supply of SAF. Based on the proposed EU legislation for 2021-2030 (RED II), we found SAF supply could increase to 4-6 million metric tonnes in 2030, which would cover 6-9% of EU jet fuel demand and reduce roughly three-quarters of the projected emission growth. Prerequisites for this transition include stable policy incentives, strong support for technology development and solid sustainability criteria.

What collaborations were crucial for your study?

The studies featured in my thesis were all conducted in partnership with other leading research institutes, such as Imperial College London, Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the Energy research Centre of the Netherlands. During my research, I also had many interactions with industry players, policymakers and NGOs, which helped me to make my research more relevant and applicable to the current situation. The collaboration with SkyNRG and the company’s network has been invaluable to access market information. I believe that the interaction between academia and industry can be of great value for both parties involved.

If you had another four years for research, what questions would you target?

Questions that remain are, for example, what role does SAF play beyond 2030? What are appropriate incentive mechanisms for SAF? How can we best support technology development to get SAF technologies to scale and ASTM certified? I also foresee that the sustainability of alternative fuels will become ever more important. As the social license for SAF relies on non-negotiable climate benefits, I urge the industry to advocate for credible sustainability criteria in the context of CORSIA and adequately inform the wider public about the sustainability of the alternative fuels they use.