Aeroengine manufacturer Rolls-Royce, airframer Airbus and fuel and energy group Shell jointly announced on Thursday that they were all working to massively increase the use of 100% sustainable aviation fuel (SAF), at an accelerated tempo, by long-haul commercial aviation. The use of SAF was essential if long-range airline operations were to achieve net zero carbon emissions. (All-electric propulsion would be suitable for short- and perhaps medium-range operations, while hybrid-electric and hydrogen-fuel technologies would play important roles across all segments in the medium to long terms.)
Under the United Nations’ (UN’s) Race to Zero timescale, commercial aviation should be using a minimum of 10% of SAF by 2030 and only achieve 100% SAF use by 2050. The three companies were seeking to achieve this sooner, and were making the necessary technology developments to do so. They were also jointly calling for deeper cooperation across all sectors of the industry and with governments, to ensure that the necessary policy frameworks, technology enablers and infrastructure were created.
“At Rolls-Royce, we believe in the positive, transformative potential of technology,” affirmed group CE Warren East. “We believe we have the technology enablers to make long-haul aviation compatible with net zero carbon. Flying generates between 2% and 3% of global emissions, but as easier-to-abate sectors decarbonise that proportion will increase, so shortening aviation’s journey to net zero with action in the opening phase of this ‘Decisive Decade’ would be huge win for the world. However, we will only create the focus and momentum required to achieve this if we ratchet our collective ambition beyond the current target of achieving 10% SAF usage by 2030. We need partners who share our vision for the use of SAFs as a solution for reducing emissions on long-haul flight, to help us all successfully transition to a net zero carbon future.”
As part of Thursday’s tripartite announcement, Rolls-Royce announced that all the models in its Trent aeroengine family would be cleared to use 100% SAF by 2023. Trents form some 40% of the global total number of long-haul airliner engines. Airbus, whose aircraft were already certified to fly on fuel blends with 50% SAF, stated it was seeking to achieve certification for all its aircraft to use 100% SAF by 2030. And Shell committed itself to producing two-million tonnes a year of SAF by 2025 and to have 10% of its aviation fuel sales accounted for by SAF by 2030. Currently, Shell was building, in the Netherlands, one of the biggest biofuel plants in Europe, which was scheduled to start production in 2024.
“There are multiple solutions to catalyse the global transition to decarbonise aviation, be it developing and maturing new technology pathways, seeking improvements in operations and infrastructure, and committing to an industry-wide scale-up in the uptake and production of [SAF],” highlighted Airbus chief technical officer Dr Sabine Klauke. ‘[A]ccelerating our progress on SAF will require a collective effort, and the time to act across sectors and companies is now.”
“The aviation sector is moving towards net zero, but we need to accelerate,” stressed Shell Global Aviation president Anna Mascolo. “Shell’s commitment is clear: within four years, we’ll produce ten times as much SAF as is currently made by all producers across the world, with other industry players expected to step in to complement this ambition. With partners like Rolls-Royce and Airbus, Shell is shaping a future where we can still benefit from flying while emissions are driven down. We can strengthen the industry’s momentum with a regulatory framework that supports our investment in technology and infrastructure, while helping us build customer demand.”