What exactly is SAF?

In this article, we take a look and explain all you need to understand about Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF), one of the most recent and discussed aviation technology for commercial travel and more. At Travel Radar, in the past, we have covered news about airlines and airports using this technology, now it’s time to explain what this technology is, in a brief and comprehensible form.

The purpose of this technology

Traditionally, turbine engines use Jet A-1, a type of refined, light petroleum, and it’s a jet kerosene fuel, meaning that it is more stable and less prone to spontaneous combustion than traditional car fuel. It has been used since the late ’40s but is highly pollutant. Now the world demands that aviation in its entirety becomes more environmentally friendly and adapts to the new challenges of the new world. So here comes SAF!

Advertisement for SAF on a Lufthansa plane
©Lufthansa Group

What is SAF?

The SAF is a bio-fuel that has a very similar chemical structure to the traditional aviation jet fuel, but it has 80% lower carbon emissions. It is produced by processing used cooking oil, feedstock and miscellaneous byproducts of many different productions from different industries that process organic products, other than products from the so-called “energy crops”.

Energy crops are at the centre of some controversy since growing plants for the production of biofuels used in endothermic engines and aviation engines, may be a waste of space for growing food plantations for the expanding world population.

The main upsides of this fuel are that it can be used by ANY aircraft that are rated for conventional fuels and both fuels can be blended in the tank, it reduces GHG (Greenhouse Gases) by 20-25% and carbon emission by 80%. Plus, it requires no changes in the airport handling procedures, SAF is treated like Jet A-1 fuel and no additional training is required for the ground personnel.

The main downsides are the costs of production, and as a consequence, the costs for airlines.

Photo of a cereal field (used for SAF) and an A320
©Getty Images/iStockphoto

The future of this technology

For the moment this technology represents the sole opportunity for commercial aviation to regain a good reputation in front of public opinion and to reach all the objectives set for 2050 to reduce the industry’s carbon footprint. But it needs to become more widespread fast and it needs to be “sustainable” also for the wallet of the airlines. For the moment, according to the ICAO Tracker, 53 airports are distributing this fuel and more than 360,000 flights have flown using this technology.

This is all you need to know to understand when we talk about SAF, more detailed info can be found here.

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Tommaso Baliani
Tommaso Baliani
Aviation Reporter - Motivated individual and qualified FAA Flight Dispatcher, Tommaso is an Aviation Reporter with Travel Radar covering the state of Italian and Eastern European Aviation


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