SAF is facing a supply issue

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) estimated Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF) production to reach 300 million litres in 2022—a 200 per cent increase on 2021’s production of 100 million litres.

More optimistic calculations estimate total production in 2022 could reach 450 million litres. Both scenarios position the SAF industry on the verge of an exponential capacity and production ramp-up toward an identified tipping point of 30 billion litres by 2030, with the right supporting policies.

Airlines are committed to achieve net zero CO2 emissions by 2050 and see SAF as a key contributor.

Current estimates expect SAF to account for 65 per cent of the mitigation needed for this, requiring a production capacity of 450 billion litres annually in 2050.

'There was, at least, triple the amount of SAF in the market in 2022 than in 2021. And airlines used every drop, even at very high prices! If more was available, it would have been purchased. That makes it clear that it is a supply issue and that market forces alone are insufficient to solve it,' says Willie Walsh, IATA’s Director General.

Until the aviation industry has commercialised options for alternative power sources, such as hydrogen, all of aviation’s SAF supply will be derived from biofuel refineries, says IATA. These refineries produce renewable biodiesel, biogas, as well as SAF and their refining capacity is set to grow by over 400 per cent by 2025 compared to 2022.

Walsh adds: 'Governments, who now share the same 2050 net zero goal, need to put in place comprehensive production incentives for SAF. It is what they did to successfully transition economies to renewable sources of electricity. And it is what aviation needs to decarbonise.'

To date, over 450,000 commercial flights have been operated using SAF, and the growing number of airlines signing offtake agreements with producers sends a clear signal to the markets that SAF is needed in larger quantities, and so far in 2022, around 40 offtake agreements have been announced.