US Sets Target for 100% SAF Use by 2050

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The US Department of Energy (DOE) published a plan last week that would see the country meet 100% of its projected jet fuel demand with sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) by 2050.

The SAF Grand Challenge Roadmap targets domestic SAF output of 3 billion gallons per year — roughly 196,000 barrels per day — by 2030, and a whopping 35 billion gallons/yr, or some 2.3 million b/d, of production by the middle of the century.

The output boost is aimed at displacing all anticipated petroleum-derived jet fuel use in domestic air travel in an effort to cut carbon emissions and meet its climate targets.

“The ultimate goal of the SAF Grand Challenge is to reduce GHG emissions in the aviation sector by supporting the creation of an environment where feedstock producers adopt best practices to reduce emissions, regional collaborations come together to maximize economic and social benefits in developing SAF and fuel producers ultimately choose to produce and sell SAF to aviation industry end users,” the DOE said.

The agency's roadmap stresses that accomplishing its ambitious goals will require not only inter-agency and public-private cooperation but also the ongoing development of technologies to allow more feedstock for SAF production.

The DOE noted that the aviation fuel market should expect more policies and legislation as the energy transition picks up steam, especially for the 2030 SAF output target.

“Further legislative action to reduce cost and risk will likely be necessary to meet the goals," the agency said.

Feedstock in Focus

The DOE identified six key factors on which to focus in pursuit of its SAF goals: developing more and new feedstocks, conversion technologies, developing supply chains, policy analysis, easier access for end users and communication.

The agency said it is developing dedicated teams for each of the six factors.

The most acute is developing more feedstock, a sentiment that echoes concerns from market players in the wake of a slew of refinery conversions to produce both SAF and renewable diesel.

Concerns abound that there will not be enough feedstocks — used cooking oil, fats, agricultural waste and others — to supply planned and existing biofuels plants.

The DOE expects fats, oils and grease to constitute the bulk of feedstock through 2030, with sourcing from other areas including agriculture and forestry to follow.

In all, the agency said it believes the US can ultimately produce some 1 billion dry tons per year of biomass as feedstock, which would be converted “into 50 billion–60 billion gallons of advanced biofuels without impacting agriculture, trade or current uses of biomass.”

The agency also noted that the displacement of demand for road fuel as electrification picks up could free up more feedstock to produce SAF, and noted the potential for more sources of feedstock, including gasses.

“Combined, there is sufficient feedstock to meet the projected needs of the US aviation industry if cost, sustainability and production barriers can be addressed,” the DOE said.

Sources with renewable fuels giant Neste told Energy Intelligence that using forestry waste as feedstock for renewables could take a long time to develop — a matter of a decade or more, rather than a few years.

Another pressing issue is logistics. Despite recent rampant growth in biofuels interest on the part of refiners and even integrated majors such as Chevron, supply chains remain in their infancy.

“SAF supply chains are immature, may be regionally unique, and will likely require significant resources and investment to establish,” the DOE said.

Biofuels (incl. SAF), Refining, Policy and Regulation, Low-Carbon Policy, Oil Demand
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