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NGOs in the SAF Sphere: Driving the change

As more developments around Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF) unfold, the impact that non-governmental organizations (NGOs) have in influencing the pace of change is more important than ever.

In the process of decarbonizing the aviation industry, various regulatory bodies, institutions, airlines, corporate companies and policy makers need to collaborate and support one another. This is where the presence of NGOs can act as a linking pin to map the challenges and opportunities ahead.

Board Now member NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council) is one such example. In their discussions with the state of California, the NRDC was able to design and secure the states’ low-carbon standard in 2015, which is expected to double the use of alternative fuels to 14 percent of California’s transportation energy mix by 2020 and nearly triple it to 20 percent by 2025. Along with other carbon-reduction and oil-saving measures, the standard will help shrink consumers’ fuel costs by approximately $1,000 per household by 2022.  

From an energy and fuel perspective, NRDC focuses on pushing for biofuels that are made from sustainably grown materials, while protecting sensitive landscapes and lowering carbon pollution across their life cycle. Working with state organizations and federal bodies, NRDC strives to create incentives for more sustainable fuels, as well as keeping a sharp eye on the aviation industry to ensure the right choices are made now and in the future.

Going Beyond CO2 Reduction

For Board Now, this approach goes hand in hand with our sustainability criteria, which is all about improving the status quo and realizing a positive environmental and socio-economic impact. We believe projects that prioritize the sustainability of SAF can produce a positive effect on regions, such as enhanced biodiversity, significant CO2 emission reductions, less dependency on fossil energy sources, stimulation of local employment, and strengthening of local, regional, and national economies.

Let’s take a closer look at some of these benefits:

1. Reduced CO2

While fossil fuels release additional carbon that was previously stored in reservoirs, SAF recycles CO2 emissions that were emitted previously and subsequently absorbed from the atmosphere during biomass production. In case of synthetic SAF, the CO2 is captured via Direct Air Capture from ambient air or from point sources. In its neat form, SAF can drastically reduce the carbon emitted into the atmosphere compared to fossil kerosene and the key difference there is due to the source of the carbon. This difference in carbon reduction depends on the feedstock and technology pathway used, as well as other important factors like the SAF’s supply chain.

2. Better local air quality

On top of the CO2 reduction, SAF can also reduce direct emissions: particulate matter (PM) with up to 90% and sulphur (SOx) with 100%, in comparison to fossil kerosene. If these emissions are reduced, local air quality can see improvements especially in places where there is high flight movement density, like airports.

3. Improved fuel efficiency

Research shows that SAF has a higher energy density in comparison to fossil jet fuel and it yields an improved fuel efficiency (1.5% – 3%). This means it either allows for more weight to be transported, be it cargo or passengers, or for longer flights, on less fuel, resulting in higher payload conditions or extended range.

4. Advantages of a regional SAF supply chain

In addition to the above, having a SAF supply chain can result in increased regional energy security, reduced volatility of jet fuel supply and price, and economic development through investments and job creation in regions. These regional benefits are equally as important as the environmental ones. 

Although there is still much to be done on the journey to decarbonization, it is through the spirit of collaboration and teamwork that the various players in the aviation industry can move forward together. Seeing the part that NGOs play in driving this conversation is promising and ensures that the plan for the challenges that lie ahead is well researched, designed and debated.