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Mena’s use of green jet fuel ‘needs incentives’ to take off

Executives from Emirates, Airbus and their partners at Wednesday's test flight in Dubai Emirates
Executives from Emirates, Airbus and their partners at Wednesday's test flight in Dubai
  • Emirates test flight on Wednesday
  • Europe and US have mandates
  • Sustainable fuel vital for net zero

On Wednesday morning, an Emirates A380 took off from Dubai International Airport and headed down the coastline. It’s a familiar route, but this was something new: one of the Airbus’s four engines was 100 percent powered by sustainable aviation fuel.

The 45-minute test flight came in a week of advances for sustainable fuels, known as SAFs. Three days earlier, a Gulfstream G600 business jet completed the world’s first transatlantic flight powered 100 percent by SAF, landing in southeast England after a 7-hour trip from Savannah, Georgia.

“These fuels are the most effective way to address CO2 emissions in the aviation industry today,” Julie Kitcher, executive vice president of communications at European planemaker Airbus, said at Dubai airport on Wednesday.

Take-up of sustainable fuel is “vital” if the aviation sector is to hit its target of net zero emissions by 2050 and will need “the backing of the whole industry”, she added.

However, industry experts at last week’s Dubai Airshow told AGBI that Middle Eastern carriers need clear mandates and incentives similar to the US and Europe in order to ramp up use of SAFs.

“One of the most important challenges is the uncertainty, which is clear policy, clear procedure, incentives for airlines. The industry really needs a masterplan,” said Azzam Qari, CEO of Arabian Petroleum Supply Company.

Honeywell is an aerospace and tech business that was one of Gulfstream’s partners for its transatlantic SAF flight. Mohammed Mohaisen, the company’s president and CEO for the Middle East, North Africa, Turkey and Central Asia, also believes incentives are required to encourage airlines in the region to adopt the new fuels, which cost three to eight times as much as traditional kerosene.

“Today in Europe, no plane can take off without having a mix of the SAF. Here, there is no policy so it doesn’t force the use of SAF,” he said.

Under European Union legislation, sustainable fuels must make up 2 percent of the total by 2025, rising to 70 percent by 2050. Incentives are also available to airlines using the fuel in Europe and the US.

Wizz Air, the European parent company of low-cost carrier Wizz Air Abu Dhabi, has invested £5 million ($6.3 million) in a British biofuel company, Firefly. It is also part of a consortium providing $50 million of funding to CleanJoule, a US-based biofuel startup.

“It is a strategic approach; we guarantee ourselves supply in the future and we control the cost,” Yvonne Moynihan, Wizz Air’s chief corporate and environmental, social, and corporate governance officer, told AGBI.

Last year SAFs made up just 0.1 percent of the global fuel mix, so production needs to increase quickly too.

The A380 test flight. Emirates is investing $200 million in sustainable fuels researchEmirates
Sustainable aviation fuel is loaded onto the Airbus A380. Emirates is spending $200m on SAF research

Mohaisen said Honeywell was in talks with national oil companies and governments in Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Egypt about producing SAF in the region, but the lack of feedstock as well as policies was a challenge.

Doris Tan, head of Shell Aviation Asia Pacific and Middle East, points out that most proposed SAF plants are in North America or Europe. Middle East fuel producers are at an earlier stage of development, according to Tan.

However, the UAE has set a sustainable fuel roadmap and a target of 700 million litres of SAF production annually by 2030. On Monday, at a conference organised in Dubai by the International Civil Aviation Organisation, a consortium of companies launched Air-Craft, a UAE-based research centre to advance SAF production.

In addition to Wednesday’s A380 test flight, Emirates has allocated $200 million to research projects for sustainable fuels.

In October, Adnoc’s Ruwais Refinery in Abu Dhabi received International Sustainability Carbon Certification for SAF.

But for now, the only SAF available in the UAE is imported: Shell has recently supplied 315,000 gallons of blended SAF for use in Dubai.

What is SAF?

Sustainable aviation fuels can reduce the CO2 emissions of flying by up to 80 percent, compared with traditional jet fuel.

They can be produced from waste fats, oil, green and municipal waste, and non-food crops. They can also be synthesised using carbon capture processes.

The International Air Transport Association says 300 million to 450 million litres of SAFs were produced last year – and estimates that this figure must rise to 30 billion litres by 2030 and 450 billion litres by 2050 to make net zero targets achievable for airlines.

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