Scaffolding and green pipes envelop a refinery in the Port of Rotterdam, where Finnish engineering service company Neste Oyj is preparing to significantly boost production of sustainable aviation fuel (SAF).
Switching to nonfossil aviation fuels that produce less net greenhouse gas emissions is key to plans to decarbonize air transport, a significant contributor to global warming.
Neste, the largest global producer of SAF, uses cooking oil and animal fat at the Dutch refinery.
SAFs are made from numerous sources, such as municipal waste, leftovers from the agricultural and forestry industry, crops and plants, and even hydrogen. These technologies are still developing and the end product is more expensive.
However, the fuels are expected to help airlines reduce carbon emissions by up to 80 percent, the International Air Transport Association estimates.
Global output of SAF was 250,000 tonnes last year, less than 0.1 percent of the more than 300 million tonnes of aviation fuel used during that period.
“It’s a drop in the ocean, but a significant drop,” Neste CEO Matti Lehmus said.
“We’ll be growing drastically our production from 100,000 tonnes to 1.5 million tonnes next year,” he added.
There clearly is demand.
The EU is planning to impose the use of a minimum amount of SAF by airlines, rising from 2 percent in 2025 to 6 percent in 2030 and at least 63 percent in 2050.
Neste has another site for SAF in Singapore, which is to start production this month.
“With the production facilities of Neste in Rotterdam and Singapore, we can meet the mandate for EU in 2025,” Neste vice president for renewable aviation Jonathan Wood said.
Air France sustainable development director Vincent Etchebehere said that “between now and 2030, there will be more demand than supply of SAF.”
Air France-KLM Group has reached a deal with Neste for the supply of 1 million tonnes of sustainable aviation fuel between this year and 2030.
It has also lined up 10 year agreements with US firm DG Fuels LLC for 600,000 tonnes and with TotalEnergies SE for 800,000 tonnes.
At the Rotterdam site, two giant storage tanks of 15,000m3 are yet to be painted.
They lie near a quay where the fuel would be transported by boat to feed Amsterdam Airport Schiphol and airports in Paris.
The Franco-Dutch group has taken steps to cut its carbon footprint, using 15 percent of the global SAF output last year — or 0.6 percent of its fuel needs.
Lehmus said there was a great need to “mature the technologies” to make sustainable aviation fuel from diverse sources such as algae, nitrocellulose and synthetic fuels.
Air France CEO Anne Rigail said the prices of sustainable aviation fuel were as important as their production.
Sustainable fuel costs about 3,500 euros (US$3,805) a tonne globally, but only $2,000 in the US thanks to government subsidies. In France, it costs 5,000 euros a tonne.
“We need backing, and we really think the EU can do more,” Rigail said.
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