[2022 en mots-clés] The SAF, the lifeline of air transport

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Impossible to escape it in 2022. Air transport players had only one word in their mouths: SAF, for Sustainable Aviation Fuel. Examples? Airbus has multiplied this year the test flights that integrate 100% of the SAF with airplanes and helicopters, or 29% for A400M. At the end of the year, the European aircraft manufacturer even announced a partnership with the Finnish Neste, the world’s leading producer of SAF. Boeing, an ardent supporter of sustainable fuels, bought about 7.5 million liters of it at the end of 2022. As for the business aircraft airport of Paris-Le Bourget, it is now able to supply SAF. And Air France-KLM, which depends above all on this type of energy supply to decarbonise its flights, has signed an agreement with TotalEnergies to supply it with 800,000 tonnes. SAF who can!

After this rush, an observation shared by all air transport actors: SAFs constitute the massive decarbonisation weapon of global aviation, aiming for carbon neutrality by 2050. They alone can represent two thirds of the way to be done. Electrical power? Not efficient enough to hope to significantly reduce CO2 emissions from aircraft. Hydrogen, carried by Airbus and its project will be completed in 2035? This ultra-complex solution will only be able to make a real impact during the second half of the 21st century, with the admission of Guillaume Faury, executive chairman of the European aircraft manufacturer. Hence the hope represented by SAFs: they have the potential to reduce the CO2 emissions of a flight by up to 80%, during the entire life cycle of the fuel.


Production begins to take off

But what exactly is it? Behind the acronym hide less than a dozen distinct production sectors, certified by the American organization ASTM. The main path developed today: the so-called HEFA sector, based on the transformation by hydrogenation of used oils. It is by far the most advanced from a technical and industrial point of view, even if it results in a fuel that still costs three to five times more. Other sectors aim to produce sustainable fuel from wood waste and municipal waste (Fischer Tropsch sector) or sugar plants (alcohol for jet). While other production processes are under review by ASTM, most dies are certified for a 50% embedment rate. Aircraft and engine manufacturers claim they can achieve a 100% rate by 2030, by adapting both engines and fuels.

Anyway, for now, global SAF production is embryonic, because it constitutes less than 0.1% of fuel consumption in the aviation sector. It must be said that raw material resources are scarce. Good news: the trend is clearly accelerating. Production should reach 300 million liters in 2022, an increase of 200% compared to 2021, or even 450 million liters according to the latest estimates from the International Air Transport Association (IATA). But there is still a long way to go before massive use on a planetary scale: while the limit of 30 billion liters must be exceeded in 2030, 450 billion liters should be produced per year from 2050 in the case of a scenario where SAF represents. 65% reduction of CO2 emissions.

Synthetic fuels in ambush

If production begins, the dynamic will already be unbalanced on both sides of the Atlantic. While the United States supports the SAF sector with aid and subsidies through its climate plan, associated with a raft of protectionist measures, Europe is currently betting on a binding progressive incorporation schedule that remains running until 2050. Enough to surpass the head of Airbus. ” Investors are willing to invest in low carbon energy, but they will go where there is certaintyconfirmed the leader at the end of 2022. However, in the United States, aid to the SAF is clearly marked and those who invest know what they will benefit from. Investments are therefore likely to move quickly to the United States, as the country offers a much higher level of certainty. Europe has chosen a much more regulatory approach with taxes and barriers. »

Due to the limitation of biomass resources, another path that is still almost unexplored in the world of SAF may eventually make a breakthrough: electrofuels, also called synthetic fuels. These fuels are obtained through the electrolysis of carbon-free hydrogen (produced by the electrolysis of water with carbon-free electricity such as solar, photovoltaic or even nuclear) with CO2 captured in the atmosphere or in industrial fumes to obtain chains long carbon, and therefore in the end. petroleum. This promising path still raises questions about energy efficiency. And certain technological bricks have to gain in maturity, such as CO2 capture. Despite everything, proof of the interest it raises: in March 2022, Safran and Engie announced a joint stake in the German start-up Ineratec, which developed complete modular production units of synthetic fuel.

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Source: UsineNouvelle – Actualités A la une from www.usinenouvelle.com.

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