Analysis: Government poised to publish SAF mandate

Details of the UK’s sustainable aviation fuel plan are imminent, reports Ian Taylor

The government is poised to publish details of its sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) mandate and consult on proposals for a ‘revenue certainty’ mechanism for SAF producers.

The mandate will require fuel companies to blend a proportion of SAF with jet fuel from 2025, with a target of 10% by 2030.

The revenue-certainty mechanism is aimed to ensure the costs of SAF – which can be five times the cost of regular jet fuel – don’t hinder its development. This is due by April 26, with the mandate expected to be issued at or around the same time.

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No SAF is produced in the UK yet. The government has committed to having five SAF plants under construction by 2025, but industry leaders and environmental groups are sceptical as the revenue mechanism to support production will not come in until 2027.

A coalition of groups, including the Aviation Environment Federation (AEF) and Transport and Environment (T&E), forecast the government will portray the SAF mandate as “a key step” toward “guilt-free flying”.

But AEF policy director Cait Hewitt said: “Let’s not get too excited. These fuels release as much CO2 as kerosene when burned.”

T&E UK policy manager Matt Finch argued: “Some of the feedstocks aren’t sustainable and all are already used for something else.”

They warn there is a risk feedstocks will be diverted from uses such as road transport and increase fossil fuel use elsewhere.

The groups not only question how much SAF will reduce emissions but also point out: “Most of the feedstock for the mandate is likely to be waste material, including plastics, which is not scalable or truly net zero.”

The most-sustainable fuels, known as ‘power to liquid’ or ‘e-fuels’, are energy-intensive and expensive to produce and are likely to form only a tiny proportion of SAF, with the mandate expected to include a sub-target for these.

The government is expected to confirm a mandate start date of January 1, 2025, the annual percentages of SAF required up to 2040 and a limit on use of SAF derived from waste oils (Hefa) – the fuel used on the Virgin Atlantic 100%-SAF flight to New York last November.

It should also confirm the criteria for different feedstocks and production methods, and measures to stop airlines avoiding the requirements by ‘tankering’ – filling up with fuel outside the UK.

The groups insist the extra cost of SAF should be paid for by airlines, saying: “The polluters should pay.”

Finch said: “The higher the price [of SAF], the more chance of having a UK SAF industry. The problem is the airlines will say the higher the price, the higher the cost to passengers. You can’t have both.”

The EU already has a mandate requiring 5% SAF-use by 2030 and 20% by 2035.

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