• Virgin Atlantic’s sustainable fuel flight hailed major step forward as demand for SAF set to reach 194 million tonnes by 2050

Fuel for Thought

Virgin Atlantic’s sustainable fuel flight hailed major step forward as demand for SAF set to reach 194 million tonnes by 2050

Dec 01 2023

Following the news that Virgin Atlantic has completed the first transatlantic flight using 100% sustainable jet fuels (SAF);

Caroline Midgley, Director of Biofuels and Chemicals Research at GlobalData, a leading data and analytics company, offers her view on the current status of this new technology:

“This is a major step forward for both the company and the wider industry, as Virgin joins a growing number of airlines that have committed to decarbonize aviation using low-carbon fuel. Many airlines have ambitious targets, typically looking to replace 10% of their fossil kerosene with SAF by 2030 – in line with some national mandates.

“The SAF market is a relatively new, but rapidly growing, industry. Based on the latest policy developments within Europe and the US, which represent the vast majority of the SAF market, GlobalData projects that global SAF demand is set to reach 194 million tonnes in 2050. This represents 30% of the total projected aviation fuel use in 2050.

Whether this demand can be successfully met will depend on the world's leading government’s ability to follow through on their ambitions, and so airline targets will be a key driver of SAF volume in the near term.

“The American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) has approved nine technology pathways to produce SAF, with others under consideration. Hydro-processed esters and fatty acids (HEFA) fuel is by far the most developed technology, with large plants currently in operation and more in the pipeline. Alcohol-to-jet (ATJ) fuel is the second largest technology by announced capacity, which has increased significantly over the last 12 months. While hydrotreatment will remain the dominant route for SAF production in the near term, a wider range of feedstocks and technologies will be deployed moving forward.

“The International Air Transport Association (IATA), which represents the majority of the world’s airlines, has committed to making aviation carbon neutral by 2050.

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