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  • Writer's pictureRon Kotrba

UK transport secretary pledges world’s 1st transatlantic flight using 100% SAF by end of next year

During a visit to the U.S., U.K. Transport Secretary Grant Shapps pledged May 14 to deliver the world’s first transatlantic flight powered exclusively with sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) by the end of next year.

Meeting with airline executives, Shapps invited the international sector to work closely with the U.K. government to deliver the demonstrator flight in 2023, paving the way for flights on the transatlantic route, and many more, to be powered solely by SAF. The test flight will be supported by up to £1 million (USD$1.2 million) of competition funding and will increase understanding of commercial flights using 100 percent SAF.

The new initiative has come out of the Jet Zero Council, a partnership between industry and government that aims to deliver new technologies and innovative ways to cut aviation emissions while supporting the U.K. economy.

“This trailblazing net zero emissions flight, a world first, will demonstrate the vital role that sustainable aviation fuel can play in decarbonizing aviation in line with our ambitious net-zero targets,” Shapps said. “That’s not just great news for the environment, it’s great news for passengers who will be able to visit the Big Apple without increasing damaging greenhouse gas emissions.”

Current jet fuel specifications do not allow flights to use 100 percent SAF. “The government is committed to accelerating the testing and approval of 100 percent SAF to unlock the full decarbonization potential of this technology,” Shapps said. “Delivering the transatlantic flight announced today would help to gather the data needed to support ongoing and future work to test and certify sustainable aviation fuel while exploring how engine efficiency improvements, flight optimization and greenhouse gas removals can contribute to achieving net-zero flights.”

Tim Alderslade, chief executive of the trade organization Airlines U.K., said this announcement will provide additional momentum to achieving this and, alongside the recent £180 million in treasury support for the development of new U.K. SAF plants, demonstrates the commitment of government to making SAF a key part of decarbonizing aviation.

“We now need to turbocharge production in order to build the initial three SAF plants by 2025 and U.K. airlines have shown real commitment to making this happen with our partnerships with Philipps 66, Velocys and LanzaTech,” Alderslade said.

Jennifer Holmgren, CEO of LanzaTech, added, “Waste based feedstocks are important as they offer an economic path to much needed volumes of sustainable aviation fuel. We applaud the U.K. government’s leadership in working with industry and setting ambitious goals for the aviation sector. It is only by working together, that we will see the transformative change needed to deliver on the commitments to meet net zero.”

Fuel specifications are not the only barrier preventing a higher uptake of SAF, said Indro Mukerjee, CEO of Innovate U.K., which is running the competition with the U.K. transport department. “High fuel production costs, technology risk at commercial scale and feedstocks availability are some of the challenges that government and industry are jointly working to overcome in order to build a thriving domestic SAF sector,” Mukerjee said.

The U.K. government is exploring a mandate for SAF and is supporting the U.K. SAF industry with £180 million of funding over the next three years. This support will build on the progress made through previous advanced fuels grant funding programs. In addition, £400 million of funding is being made available through a government partnership with Breakthrough Energy Catalyst.



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