The EU sees an important role for SAF in contributing to reduce the environmental impact of aviation. This is why it is taking action in a number of areas to support a greater uptake of SAF within the European market, including research within the ‘Horizon 2020’ programme that supports the development and pre-commercial production of SAF. From 2013 to 2020, a total budget of €464 million is available to study advanced biofuels and other renewable sources, of which €25 million has been specifically allocated to SAF.
The Renewable Energy Directive (RED), which was adopted in 2009, established an overall policy framework for the production and promotion of energy from renewable sources in the EU. The RED requires all EU countries to ensure that at least 10% of their transport energy comes from renewable sources by 2020. The RED also includes multipliers which count the contribution of biofuels by a factor greater than 1 in order to encourage the use of advanced biofuels and meet future targets, while capping the contribution of bio-based fuels derived from food/feed-competing crops. The RED targets do not apply to aviation fuel. However, in 2015, the RED was amended 10 and the UK.to recognise the possibility of a so-called ‘voluntary aviation opt-in’ to implement in national legislation, which was taken up by the Netherlands
An agreement has recently been reached on an update to the RED that now requires fuel suppliers to ensure that at least 14% of energy used in the EU transport sector comes from renewable sources by 2030. Under this revision, SAF can contribute to the achievement of the RED targets in all Member States, on condition that they comply with the associated sustainability criteria. In addition, a specific multiplier of 1.2 is to be applied to the quantity of SAF supplied, in calculating its contribution towards the renewable energy targets. The contribution of bio-based fuels from food or feed crops to the targets in each Member State will be capped at around its level in 2020. The contribution of any high-indirect land use change risk food or feed crop-based biofuels, produced from food or feed crops for which a significant expansion of the production area into land with high carbon stock is observed, towards the targets in each Member State will be capped at the 2019 level of consumption of such fuels until 2023, after which their contribution will gradually be reduced to 0% by 2030 at the latest. Biofuels certified as low indirect land use change risk will be excluded from this limit.
The EU Emissions Trading System (EU ETS) provides an incentive to aircraft operators to use SAF that comply with the sustainability criteria defined in the RED by attributing them zero emissions under the scheme. The use of SAF thereby reduces an aircraft operator’s reported emissions, and the number of ETS allowances it has to purchase. This provides a financial incentive for aircraft operators to use SAF instead of conventional aviation fuels.
The European Advanced Biofuels Flightpath was launched in 2011 as a partnership between the European Commission and major European stakeholders, with the aim to accelerate the speed at which SAF are brought to market. It is clear that the goal previously set by the group for 2 million tonnes of SAF to be produced annually by 2020 will not be met. The European Advanced Biofuels Flightpath is working on an updated roadmap towards 2030.
The UN International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) recognises SAF as an important element in reducing GHG emissions from aviation. Following ICAO’s 39th Assembly in 2016, Resolution A39-2 requested Member States to put in place coordinated policy actions to accelerate the development, deployment and use of SAF. The second ICAO Conference on Aviation and Alternative Fuels in 2017 subsequently adopted a 2050 Vision for SAFs that called on States and all stakeholders to ensure that a significant proportion of fossil-based aviation fuels be substituted with SAF by 2050. Quantified targets are to be agreed at the next conference due to take place by 2025.
ICAO’s Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation (CORSIA) will be implemented as of 2021, and will allow aircraft operators to reduce their offsetting obligations by using SAFs and fossil based ‘lower carbon aviation fuels’. These fuels must comply with sustainability criteria, which as noted in section 3.3 are still the subject of ongoing discussions. The extent to which SAF eligible under CORSIA will make a positive contribution to mitigating the environmental impacts of international aviation will depend on the sustainability criteria for their eligibility. ICAO has not yet adopted these. The reduction in offsetting requirements that can be claimed is equal to the emissions reductions calculated for the specific fuel used. This is based on the difference between the baseline life cycle emissions of 89 gCO2eq/ MJ and the calculated life cycle emissions of the specific bio-based fuel. Work is still on-going to quantify induced land use change reference values that will be used to calculate the total life cycle emissions of the fuels.