How Sustainable Airline Fuels (SAFs) Help the Economy


When it comes to Iberia‘s commitment to environmental sustainability, the transition of its air fleet to Sustainable Aircraft Fuels (SAFs) is not only vital for the health of our planet´s environment, but also an economic book, advancing technology and creating high-quality jobs. Let’s take a closer look at how this change will develop and how it impacts not only the planet, but also the economy.

First Off, How Are SAFs Made?

This particular class of fuels is manusfactured in varying ways, the main ones being:

  • Organic (oleochemical and lipid origin): Distilled from lipid raw materials such as used cooking oil, which undergoes a hydrogenation process into a perfectly compatible paraffinic fuel to be mixed with conventional aviation fuel.
  • Biochemical organic: From alcohols such as ethanol, which is produced from the fermentation of glucose produced by sugar cane.
  • Also organic, but through a thermochemical process: From raw materials such as certain woods, or agricultural or forestry waste, synthetic paraffinic kerosene is produced, so that carbon monoxide and hydrogen are transformed into liquid hydrocarbons.
  • Synthetic: produced by capturing carbon dioxide using green hydrogen (excellent news for the Spanish economy, which is highly invested in this area),

The International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) and all its member states have agreed on a series of objectives aimed at reducing CO2 emissions in international aviation. The  Long-term Global Aspirational Goals report of its 41st assembly in the fall of 2022 concluded that the SAF is the instrument that has the greatest potential to achieve these  objectives.

SAF Production Is Thriving in Spain

A report prepared for Iberia and Vueling, entitled “The socioeconomic impact of the development of SAF in Spain”, concluded that this demand would be covered by between 30 and 40 production plants spread throughout the country.

This new industry not only directly promotes the sustainability of air transport – and which one of the world´s most strongly committed to decarbonisation – but also the birth of a new green industry that will contribute to very encouraging growth for the country’s economy.

The Economic Impact of SAF Production

Key data points from the report mentioned above include:

    • Bringing 32 new SAF plants online and the industry´s general impact on Spain´s GDP is estimated at 56 billion euros between now and 2050.
    • The number of jobs that will be generated is estimated at around 270,000, divided into two groups: the first covering the construction phase (around a quarter of a million) and the second in start-ups and operation (roughly 20,000 more). In short, the SAF industry will have a major impact in boosting employment in Spain.
    • By 2050, some five million tonnes of SAF will be produced per year, and the difference between the importing this fuel and manufacturing it domestically is enormous in economic terms, which is why Iberia is firmly committed to promoting this new industry.
    • Export capacity; These 32 plants would not only cover demand but would leave large volumes of SAF available for export – more excellent news for the country’s economy.
    • A major boost for “empty Spain” (the term used for large swaths of rural areas with severely declining population and living standards due to mass migration to cities): Many of the raw materials which the SAF industry needs its manufacture (such as agricultural waste and other biomass) are most prevalent in rural areas, so that´s where this industry would be largely be based. This will have the benefit of injecting new life and vitality into la España vaciada, countering the decades-long erosion of these areas´ populations and economies.

Iberia´s Commitment to Decarbonisation

Beyond their positive effects on employment and the economy in general, some key benefits of SAFs for the environment include:

  • Reduction in carbon-dioxide emission by up to 100 percent in terms of life cycle.
  • Sustainability from start to finish, since the raw materials used can be harvested without degrading forests or competing with food crops in terms of water consumption.
  • Aircraft or airports do not need any special modification to their engines to use this biofuel.

The commitment to these objectives of IAG, the group to which Iberia belongs, far exceeds those proposed by the European Union; specifically, IAG will be using a minimum of 10 percent of SAFs by 2030, double the EU target.

And it doesn’t end there: the other major objective of the aeronautical group is to reach zero net emissions by 2050. Two challenges that add to the development of this industry in the country and that can revolutionise our economy.