From fast food to jet fuel—how cooking oil is helping power Heathrow’s green revolution
Greener, cleaner jet fuel has become a hot commodity at Heathrow as the airport embarks on the second year of its sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) incentive scheme.
In 2022, Heathrow launched a world first—a £38 million (USD$45.7 million) airport SAF incentive program that aimed to cover up to 50 percent of the extra cost, making the fuel more affordable for airlines to use.
With last year’s scheme oversubscribed, Heathrow is now aiming to triple the percentage used in 2023 to approximately 1.5 percent, putting the airport on course to be one the world’s largest users of SAF this year.
Participants of the scheme include International Airlines Group, Virgin Atlantic, United Airlines, Air France, KLM and JetBlue.
SAF is a proven technology that reduces carbon emissions by up to 70 percent compared with traditional jet fuel. It can be made from a variety of sources, including waste, animal fat and cooking oil. SAF can work in existing aircraft without the need for technical modifications, and with advancements in aircraft technology like electric or hydrogen-powered flight still some way from commercial implementation, SAF is the key to unlocking material reductions in carbon today.
As a global SAF leader, Heathrow is committed to progressively increasing the SAF used each year, with the airport targeting 11 percent SAF usage by 2030. This year alone the SAF incentive is expected to save more than 81,000 metric tons of CO2 and with a proven track record of success, Heathrow’s incentive scheme can now serve as blueprint for other airports to follow suit and introduce SAF into their own operations.
Heathrow’s innovative SAF program marks the next step in the airport and the U.K. aviation sector’s plan for net-zero flying, but the airport recognizes that the sector could move more quickly and cut carbon faster if the government injected pace into the expansion of SAF with supportive policymaking. High costs and low production volumes mean it remains in short supply with few able to access it at commercially viable rates.
The appetite to invest is there, but investors want certainty in the longer-term use of this technology before pouring in their capital.
The U.S. has acted directly to shore up SAF’s economic and net-zero impact. The Inflation Reduction Act, which includes a tax-credit scheme designed to lure SAF investors to America, is leaving the U.K. at risk of missing out on the multibillion-pound industry.
Government must act now to support the SAF industry for the U.K., which learns from but does not seek to replicate the U.S. system. This can be achieved by introducing a “contracts for difference” price-support mechanism, which would help to cut the price premium between SAF and fossil fuel and was successfully used to boost technologies in the U.K. like solar and wind.
Government must also act swiftly by committing into legislation a 10 percent mandate for SAF use by 2030 this year, before the impetus and the value is lost. Delay could mean that the U.K. SAF industry suffers and cannot keep up internationally.
By delivering both, the U.K. will see an immediate and tangible impact—with investment, jobs and skills seen right across the U.K.
“Sustainable aviation fuel is not just about protecting the benefits of aviation in a net-zero world—it’s about economic opportunity, creating jobs here in the U.K. and securing the country’s future energy supplies,” said Heathrow CEO John Holland-Kaye. “Heathrow has led the way on decarbonizing aviation by incentivizing airlines to use SAF, and Team Heathrow is now probably the biggest user of SAF in the world. But it is currently all imported. If Britain really wants to compete with the scale of ambition and the credible action seen from the U.S. and Europe, supportive government policy is needed and it is needed now.”