Avgeek Alert: More About Biofuels – What Are ´SAF´s´?


We live in a world in which environmental sustainability is becoming increasingly critical, and many organisations in both the public and private sectors have been ramping up efforts in recent years to create a more viable world for ourselves and for future generations.

In the area of aviation, one important way of working toward sustainability and reducing the industry´s carbon footprint (emissions of greenhouse gasses) is the development of ever more efficient technologies as well as biofuels (known as sustainable aviation fuels, SAFs for short), derived from plant material left over from non-food-crop agriculture and forestry.

Types of SAF

They fall into several categories, depending on whether they´re produced organically or synthetically. The main ones are:

Oleochemical and lipid: Through a process called hydrogenation, discarded animal fat, and used vegetable cooking oils can end up converted into SAF.

Biochemical: Here biomass is used and converted into fuel – for example, fermenting glucose and converting it into ethanol.

Thermochemical. Material such as agricultural waste, solid waste, and wood from energy crops are transformed into synthetic kerosene through the gasification of biomass.

Electrofuels. Water, carbo dioxide, and renewable electricity are other raw materials to produce synthetic SAF for combustion engines, producing one of the most efficient biofuels out there at the moment.

How Much Carbon Do SAFs Save?

Biofuels have become the best way to stop the emission of greenhouse gasses because of they emit between 60 and even 100 percent less CO2 into the earth´s atmosphere than conventional fuels – and not just when burned by aircraft but also throughout the entire production process. This last point is very important, since a fuel that reduces carbon footprint when used but does not do so in its manufacturing can´t really be considered sustainable.

In fact, in order to be considered sustainable, a fuel must be given a seal of approval by a “sustainable aviation fuel certification system (SCS)”. This was pioneered by Switzerland-based nongovernmental organisation NGO Roundtable on Sustainable Biomaterials (RSB) and approved by the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO). Another prominent stamp of approval is issued by the International Sustainability and Carbon Certification (ISCC), based in Germany. These certifications verify the impact of the fuel on three levels: social, economic and environmental (known as the “triple bottom line”). And the requirements set forth by these supranational organisations lead manufacturers to strive to produce SAF that is increasingly more environmentally friendly.

Which Aircraft Can Use SAFs?_

Another magnificent advantage of SAF is that it is completely compatible with current engines of virtually any commercial aircraft in service, so no modifications are needed in them nor at the airports where they’re refueled (and this very fact of not requiring any additional special manufacturing is in itself another win for sustainability within the aviation industry).

The Goals and Impacts of SAFs

As with all transitions, goals and benchmarks are needed. In this case, the planned objectives in the European Union are 2 percent sustainable aviation fuel use in 2025, gradually increasing up till 70 percent by 2050. And it must be said that this is well on track as being achievable. Spain in particular is a leading country in the production of renewable energy.

In addition, ramping up the use of biofuels and renewables is becoming not just very important in promoting decarbonisation in the aviation sector, but also excellent news in economic terms, as becoming a global producer of SAF will bring about the creation of thousands of new jobs.

SAFs and the Iberia Fleet

Iberia’s commitment (as well as that of our fellow IAG airline Vueling) to decarbonisation and sustainability is very strong indeed. As proposed by the EU, we are in fact raising our share of SAF to two percent within two years. But instead of just five percemt proposed by 2030, IAG is planning to raise the percentage twice that, to ten percent.