sajf: a good alternative for business aviation

March 12, 2019

Business Aviation has seen a remarkable 40% increase in fuel efficiency over the last 40 years – and it’s only just getting started. Nick Klenske reports

2019 marks the 10th anniversary of the Business Aviation Commitment to Climate Change (BACCC), an industry-wide commitment to mitigating climate change initiated by General Aviation Manufacturers Association (GAMA) and the International Business Aviation Council (IBAC). In addition to reducing carbon emissions and achieving carbon-neutral growth, the BACCC committed Business Aviation to improving fuel efficiency by 2% per year from 2010 through 2020. This was to be achieved via the use of new technologies, infrastructure and operational improvements, market-based measures and – the focus of this article – by developing alternative fuels.   

“Alternative fuels can help the Business Aviation industry achieve such goals as carbon neutral growth by 2020, fuel efficiencies of 2% annually through 2050 and reducing carbon dioxide emissions by 50% by 2050,” says Gulfstream Aerospace Corporate Sustainability Process Manager Roger Bowman. “Alternative fuels are a key element to the industry achieving these goals.” In 2011, a Gulfstream G450 became the first business jet to cross the Atlantic using biofuels.

Where Are We Now?

Despite positive headlines like this, overall, the industry struggles to develop and adopt sustainable alternative jet fuel (SAJF). SAJF is a class of non-petroleum-based jet fuels or blended components. It is made by blending conventional, fossil-based kerosene with renewable hydrocarbons produced from, for example, recycled cooking oil. Certified as “Jet-A1” fuel, it can then be used in aircraft without requiring any technical modifications. Flying on sustainable aviation fuel reduces crude oil consumption and produces lower lifecycle carbon emissions compared to conventional jet fuel.

According to a report published by Bombardier, who has been an influential player in the BACCC, SAJF is safe – having undergone rigorous testing. Furthermore, SAJF is certified as ‘drop-in’, or ready-to-use. “It possesses similar properties, qualities and characteristics as Jet A and Jet A-1 fuel, meaning aircraft perform the same under all conditions, operators don’t have to fly differently and no modifications to aircraft equipment are needed,” says Bombardier Senior Public Relations and Sustainability Advisor Dominique Cristall. “Because in-service aircraft are ready and able to fly with SAJF today, current products can make a positive impact as early as now.”

Yet despite these advantages, trust in SAJF remains low and skepticism high. So, at EBACE 2018, GAMA, IBAC, the National Air Transportation Association (NATA), the National Business Aviation Association (NBAA) and the European Business Aviation Association (EBAA) came together to launch The Business Aviation Guide to the Use of Sustainable Alternative Jet Fuel – a publication focused on raising awareness and adoption of available and emerging alternative jet fuel options in the US and Europe.

“The technology is there, but the limiting factor has primarily been the lack of production facilities and widespread distribution of sources,” says NBAA Director of Technical Operations Eli Cotti. “Through this new initiative, we hope that Business Aviation can advance the proliferation of alternative fuels at all the logical touchpoints – manufacturers, ground handlers and operators – at the national, regional and international levels.”

The publication stresses three key points. First, that SAJF for Business Aviation is safe, approved and already available (albeit in limited quantities). Second, that these fuels offer a myriad of benefits, including those in support of the sustainability of Business Aviation, corporate responsibility and reducing emissions. And third, that SAJF are produced from multiple feedstocks, which are sustainable, renewable resources and thus an environmental ‘win-win’.

“The Business Aviation community has a long and successful history of innovation when it comes to promoting the policies, products and procedures that reduce the industry’s carbon footprint,” says NBAA President and CEO Ed Bolen. “With this initiative, we underscore our effort on what has always been an important priority.”

“The EBAA is very proud to have contributed to this project, which aims to increase the availability of sustainable alternative jet fuel, directly contributing to our sector goals and therefore reducing our overall environmental impact,” adds EBAA Chairman Juergen Wiese.

On January 17, the same coalition of international aviation organizations held an event – Business Jets Fuel Green: A Step Toward Sustainability – at Van Nuys Airport (VNY) in Southern California. Happening after this issue has gone to press, organizers told BART that the event would demonstrate that SAJF can become a mainstream, drop-in alternative for today’s general aviation aircraft. Furthermore, VNY’s four FBOs have collaborated to make a jet fuel blended with SAJF available for use during the event.

Another initiative working towards the same goal is the Commercial Aviation Alternative Fuels Initiative (CAAFI), a public/private partnership between the aviation community and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) that is focused on accelerating the development and deployment of sustainable alternatives to Jet A. CAAFI’s goal is to promote the development of alternative jet fuel options that offer equivalent safety and favorable costs compared to petroleum based jet fuel, while offering environmental improvement and energy supply security for aviation. The NBAA is among the initiative’s 300 members.

An Opportunity for Fuel Companies

Sustainable alternative jet fuel is more than just a nice talking point for industry associations – it’s also a real business opportunity for fuel companies. As a case-in-point, in June 2018, Avfuel announced an agreement with leading next generation biofuels company Gevo, Inc. – a significant milestone in the company’s sustainable fuels initiative. With the agreement, Avfuel becomes Gevo’s exclusive aviation fuel distributor of the sustainable alternative jet fuel portion of Gevo’s renewable hydrocarbon products to Business Aviation and its entire portfolio of customers.

“As a leader in the global supply of aviation fuel and services, we have a social responsibility to make sustainable alternative jet fuel a reality in the marketplace,” says Avfuel President and CEO Craig Sincock. “Our agreement with Gevo is a notable component in our overall strategy to support our industry’s commitment to reducing carbon emissions and enhancing sustainability to mitigate its effect on climate change.” Sincock adds that the agreement helps the company meet the demand of its customers for a low-carbon, alternative jet fuel, thus filling a gap in the industry’s supply chain.

For Gevo, the agreement is an important step in its efforts to move forward and develop a large-scale hydrocarbon facility that is expected to have production capacity of approximately 10-12 million gallons per year, from which SAJF would be supplied to Avfuel. Once the larger Gevo production facility is constructed and in production, Avfuel may purchase up to a million gallons of the concentrated SAJF per year, which would equate to many millions of gallons of finished ASTM D1655 jet-fuel product when blended with conventional jet fuel. Initially, Gevo will supply SAJF to Avfuel from its smaller-scale hydrocarbon processing facility it operates in Silsbee, Texas, in partnership with South Hampton Resources, Inc.

The agreement is a product, in part, of the dedication of the Avfuel Technology Initiatives’ team. The operation’s front runner and Avfuel Manager of Alternative Fuels Keith Sawyer dedicates his time leading all aspects of evaluating the sustainable alternative jet fuel market and its suppliers while representing Avfuel within the environmental and fuel supply chain groups associated with GAMA, NBAA, NATA and IBAC.

“As a leader in the global supply of aviation fuel and services, we have a social and corporate responsibility to make SAJF a reality for our industry and our customers,” says Sawyer. “We have been focused on doing so through a number of dedicated efforts and resources since the development of Avfuel Technology Initiatives Corporation in 2012, with the mission to further industry advancements – including bio and renewable fuels – on several fronts both domestically and internationally.”

In October of last year, Air BP entered into an agreement with leading renewable products producer Neste to explore opportunities to increase the supply and availability of SAJF. Through this innovative collaboration, Neste’s knowledge and manufacturing solutions for producing and blending renewable jet fuel will be brought together with Air BP’s customer relationships, expertise in developing efficient and effective supply chains, as well as their certification and product quality assurance capabilities. One goal of the cooperation will be complementary efforts to bring a co-branded sustainable aviation fuel to market at airports across Air BP’s global network.

“We are very pleased that through our collaboration with Neste, we will be able to continue to support our customers with their low carbon ambitions,” says Air BP CEO Jon Platt. “The aviation industry’s carbon reduction targets can only be achieved with support from across the entire supply chain and, by bringing our experience and expertise together, we are looking to drive change by promoting and securing the supply of sustainable aviation fuel.”

Air BP has supplied BP Biojet in the Nordics since 2014 to around 10 airports. In Oslo, they were the first to supply sustainable aviation fuel through the existing airport fueling infrastructure, in an earlier collaboration with Neste and other key Norwegian and industry stakeholders.

Along similar lines, in May 2018, Shell Aviation and SkyNRG announced a long-term strategic collaboration to promote and develop the use of sustainable fuel in aviation supply chains. The collaboration combines Shell Aviation’s technical and commercial expertise, world-class supply chain and carbon management operations with SkyNRG’s proven track record of supplying sustainable aviation fuels and in-depth knowledge of this market.

The agreement sees the two companies working together to develop long-term opportunities for low carbon solutions. These efforts are structurally supported by committed funding to a joint business development fund.

“We want Shell to be a leader in the low carbon transition in aviation fuels,” says Shell Aviation Vice President Anne Anderson. “This agreement with industry pioneers SkyNRG demonstrates the type of progressive collaboration that can help move us towards a lower carbon emissions future. Working together, we believe we can advance sustainable solutions for the benefit of our entire industry.”

The agreement is a multi-year collaboration, with both companies acknowledging that the path to lower carbon emissions in aviation requires long-term commitment. The collaboration will focus on the joint development and funding of new opportunities to extend the use of and build more resilient supply chains for sustainable aviation fuels. This will be coupled with the development of a range of comprehensive carbon management options that will provide support to Shell Aviation and SkyNRG customers.

“In addition to bringing together the right mix of technical expertise and operational excellence, it’s the shared ambitions of SkyNRG and Shell Aviation to develop this new industry that make this collaboration an obvious one,” adds SkyNRG CEO Maarten van Dijk. “Shell Aviation’s long-term commitment to developing this new market sends a strong signal that the involvement from all players across the industry is critical to delivering the sustainable solutions that are vital for the future of aviation.”

EPIC Fuels has also been playing an ever-increasing role in growing the acceptance of sustainable biofuels and biofuel blends used in jet aviation. Over the last several years, the company has provided both technical and logistic expertise in programs for sustainable fuel alternatives. Highlights include flights flown by Alaska Airlines in 2016 using a blend of biofuel produced from non-edible, sustainable corn and renewable biofuel made from residual wood and Singapore Airlines’ first-ever flight powered by a blend of sustainable biofuel made from used cooking oil and conventional jet fuel. In addition, EPIC has provided support for multiple Boeing ecoDemonstrator flights, including a flight with US-made ‘green diesel’ biofuel in June 2015, and Boeing’s first-ever flights using a green diesel blend during the ecoDemonstrator 787 flight test program in December 2014.

The focus of the industry has now turned to second-generation sustainable biofuels (sustainable aviation fuels) that do not compete with food supplies nor are major consumers of prime agricultural land or freshwater. “Through participation in many industry-leading pilots and programs, EPIC has gained unique experience and insight into how biofuels interact with fossil jet fuels,” says EPIC Fuels Director of Commercial Sales Kai Sorenson. “Throughout these and other projects, the company has amassed significant experience, including blending data, logistics, transportation and the rigorous testing required to ensure the fuels meet or exceed industry safety standards.”

Other fuel companies involved in the development of SAJF include Phillips 66 Aviation and World Fuel Services, the latter of which began investing in developing a supply of SAJFs to supply its FBO and flight department customers in 2014. Phillips 66 Aviation echoes this commitment: “We’re devoted to supplying the industry with the products our customers want – now and in the future,” says Phillips 66 Manager of General Aviation Lindsey Grant.

Considering the significant backing these fuels have from both industry associations, fuel companies and even OEMs – it looks like SAJFs are the way of the future. So maybe its time for operators to get on board too.