ReFuelEU Discourages Use Of Damaging Biofuel Feedstocks In Hope To Halve Emissions By 2030

As part of the ReFuelEu initiative, the European Parliament has approved a new law to implement further requirements for eligible sustainable aviation fuel, or SAF, feedstocks. The introduction of this framework will limit what fuels are considered sustainable in an effort to reduce greenwashing in the field.

The ReFuelEu Initiative

As part of a bid to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 55% by 2030 and 90% in 2050, the initiative sets out to encourage the production and uptake of SAF in the European Union. In the roadmap published by the commission in early 2020, alternatives to conventional jet fuel were predicted to reduce emissions by up to 80%. Although the future of SAF in the EU appears promising, production and uptake of the fuel are still minor. As of 2020, there was an estimated SAF supply of less than 0.05% in the EU.

An Air France Plane in the sky.
Air France is just one of many airlines operating mainly in the EU, and will be required to increase biofuel use. © Steven He

In 2025, all flights departing from EU airports will be required to utilise a blend of at least 2% SAF alongside conventional jet fuel. In 2030, airlines will be required to use a minimum of 5% SAF and a minimum of 63% by 2050. The initiative has garnered criticism from Lufthansa, CEO, who points toward the limited production facilities in the continent and higher fuel prices incurred by SAF production. The passengers, he argues, will have to pay the price for this change.

SAF Regulations and Greenwashing

The term “Sustainable Aviation Fuel” may be misleading because not all SAFs are sustainable. Crop-based biofuels, which comprise most of the biofuels produced in Europe, are deemed a cure worse than the disease – thanks to their role as a competitor to food production. The continued use of these crop-based fuels threatens to displace food production and encourage land-use change that may potentially produce more emissions than conventional jet fuel. Food security is also threatened as a result of said displacement.

Rapeseed - an example of a crop-based biofuel.
Rapeseed – an example of a crop-based biofuel. © Didier Descouens on Wikimedia

Notably, said crop-based fuels are excluded from the EU’s mandated SAF bill. Rather, the mandate specifies only the use of advanced biofuels and e-kerosene. This specification will likely encourage the production and uptake of truly carbon-neutral jet fuel within the EU and prevent airlines from doing further harm under the mask of sustainability.

Advanced Biofuels, like the SAF produced by Neste, are made from waste cooking oil and animal fats. Because the fuel uses carbon dioxide already present in the atmosphere, it is deemed carbon neutral. However, Transport and Environment cautions against extensive use due to limited supply and increased demand for fuel from other sectors.

Waste Oil - a crucial part of Neste's Sustainable Aviation Fuel.
Waste Oil – a crucial part of Neste’s SAF. © Neste

E-Kerosene is produced from Carbon Dioxide and Renewable Energy – Atmosfair, a plant in Germany, produces theirs from water. Because the carbon dioxide is captured from the environment, the production of e-Kerosene is almost carbon-neutral. A study by Transport and Environment suggests that the sustainable alternative costs 2-3x the price of regular Kerosene and stresses the importance of a tax on regular kerosene.

As part of ReFuelEu's mandate, the use of e-kerosene, being produced at this Atmosfair plant will be encouraged.
E-Kerosene, created from water, at an Atmosfair plant in Germany. © Lufthansa.

By specifying what exactly counts as SAF, the EU prevents further greenwashing in the industry. However, the mandate presents new challenges as the supply of waste-derived fuels and e-kerosene may be unable to keep up with new-found demand.

How realistic is the EU’s target of a 2% blending ratio in 2025? Do you foresee Airlines meeting these targets? Let us know in the comments.

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Bella Pelster
Bella Pelster
I'm a Londoner with a huge passion for travel, history and sustainability. In my spare time I love reading novels (any genre, any author) and watching television and films (mostly the sopranos)!