The EU’s 2030 Biofuel Targets Unachievable And Expensive says Lufthansa CEO

CEO of Lufthansa, Carsten Spohr, has criticised the EU’s 2030 biofuel targets in a recent statement. RefuelEu’s mandated use of biofuel has attracted criticism from Mr Spohr, who is sceptical of Germany’s ability to meet demand for the necessary amount of Biofuel.

The European Union’s Biofuel Mandate

The EU has now issued the ReFuelEu legislation, which will see a mandated amount of Sustainable Aviation Fuel, or SAF, used in every flight departing from an EU airport. The mandate encourages a SAF blending ratio of 2% by 2025, 5% by 2030, and at minimum 63% by 2050. This follows SAF blending mandates issued by the governments of Norway and Sweden in a bid toward sustainable air travel. The United Kingdom’s Department of Transport has also confirmed issuing a similar blending mandate in 2025 – almost certainly resulting in increased European demand for SAF.

Currently, the leading SAF producer – Neste – is located in Europe. The Finnish Energy Company repurposes cooking oil and animal fats to be blended with A1 Jet Fuel. Using SAF from companies like Neste accounts for 65% of the International Air Travel Association’s Strategy toward Net Zero Carbon Emissions by 2050.

Neste's SAF is made from food waste, like the animal fat pictured.
Neste’s SAF is made from food waste. © Neste / Photo Fanny Haga

On Thursday, Mr. Spohr explained his reservations regarding the mandate to reporters in Frankfurt, arguing that there is insufficient SAF in production to meet airline demand. He mentioned that passengers would have to pay “high costs” due to the new legislation.

“From today’s point of view, it won’t work to have even the availability of the quantities that are demanded of us, not to mention the high costs that in the end the passenger will have to bear,”

Mr. Spohr also noted that Shareholders demanded “that the industry get better at this [use of SAF].” His grievances on the legislation open up a conversation on how exactly airlines will meet the demands of shareholders and legislators beyond setting net-zero targets.

How Sustainable is SAF?

Currently, SAF makes up just 0.05% of EU Fuel use, but the mandate pushes for four times this much in the next seven years. For CEOs like Mr. Stohr, such a sharp increase is unrealistic. It remains questionable whether enough fuel can be sustainably produced nationally and internationally to meet this increased demand.

Members of the European Union are not alone in questioning how exactly they will source the necessary fuel levels. A report by The Royal Society suggests that the United Kingdom cannot meet the demand for SAF Production. Although cooking oil proves to be the lowest cost, the Society argues that the UK would produce 50-100 million litres of Jet Fuel from waste cooking oil, just 0.3-0.6% of jet fuel used annually. Additionally, the Royal Society argues that not all biofuels can be described as net-low carbon and that further testing on differing aircraft is necessary.

Airbus, a Hydrogen Powered Plane, at the 2023 Paris Airshow.
Airbus, a Hydrogen Powered Plane, at the 2023 Paris Airshow. © Airbus SAS 2023 / Fernando Peralta Rodriguez

The report did note that further alternatives – Hydrogen and Ammonia – are carbon-neutral, but these require further safety testing and are less convenient than pre-existing SAF. The report concluded that there is no single alternative to jet fuel, arguing that further research must be conducted.

SAF in Europe

It should be noted, however, that EU Legislators are not blind to these issues. The Aviation Initiative for Renewable Energy in Germany e.V., or AIREG, proposes a roadmap for developing a Sustainable Aviation Fuel industry in Germany. The roadmap emphasises the necessity of strong criteria for biofuels and proposes imports from North America to meet demand.

Atmosfair's Carbon-Neutral Kerosene.
Atmosfair’s Carbon-Neutral Kerosene. © Lufthansa

Lufthansa currently partners with a biofuel production plant – Atmosfair in Elmsland – which produces carbon-neutral kerosene. The airline purchases the equivalent of 20 tons annually. Last month, the carrier signed a letter of intent for SAF production at the Haltermann Carless site in Speyer to begin in 2026, projecting a volume of 60,000 tons produced annually. The SAF Industry in Europe, especially Germany, is growing; therefore, blended SAF use on all flights is possible. But it remains debatable how soon biofuel will become a key component of every European flight and whether or not airlines will be able to meet the mandate by 2030.

Do you agree with Mr. Spohr’s reservations regarding the mandate? Let us know in the comments below.

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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)!