Plane taking off

Government awards £165m to green jet fuel projects

Five projects that aim to turn household rubbish into fuel for “guilt-free flying” on jets have been awarded a share of a £165m fund.

The UK has taken another step towards its goal of achieving net zero carbon emissions and helping its sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) by awarding five projects a share of the £165m Advanced Fuels Fund.

Together, the initiatives are expected to produce over 300,000 tonnes of SAF a year - enough to fly to the Moon and back an estimated 60 times - and slash CO2 emissions by an average of 200,000 tonnes each year, which would be the equivalent of taking 100,000 cars off the road.

The successful projects include SAF plants in Teesside, Immingham and Ellesmere Port, which will convert everyday household and commercial waste, such as black bin bags, into sustainable jet fuel.

In addition, a project in Port Talbot, south Wales, will convert steel mill off-gases into fuel and another scheme will develop a plant creating fuel using carbon captured from a gas-fired power station and hydrogen made from renewable electricity.

“Using waste or by-products to refuel airliners sounds like a flight of fancy, but thanks to £165m of government funding it’s going to help us make guilt-free flying a reality," said Transport Secretary Mark Harper.

“It’s exactly this kind of innovation that will help us create thousands of green jobs across the country and slash our carbon emissions.”

The aviation industry alone is responsible for around 2.5 per cent of global carbon emissions, and is considered a hard-to-abate sector due to a lack of technologically mature alternatives to jet-fuelled engines. For this reason, short- and medium-term decarbonisation efforts are focused on mixing conventional fuel with SAF. 

Made from waste materials or by-products such as household waste, industrial gases or used cooking oil, sustainable aviation fuels can achieve greenhouse gas emissions savings of more than 70 per cent compared to conventional fossil jet fuel.

The UK's Jet Zero strategy, published in July 2022, aims to accelerate the development of SAF production plants in the UK, helping the government to achieve its aim of having at least five commercial SAF plants under construction in the UK by 2025.

The government has also set itself a goal to achieve a 10 per cent SAF uptake rate by 2030. 

"The jet zero strategy was a real statement of intent from government that aviation, without the carbon, is an achievable end goal by 2050," said Tim Alderslade, chief executive of Airlines UK. 

"This £165 million of funding – alongside the 10 per cent SAF mandate by 2030 shows the government shares our ambition of a home-grown SAF industry here in the UK. This could generate tens of thousands of jobs and huge GVA, levelling-up and exports potential for the UK. It’s a big prize and one we are committed to working with ministers to achieve."

The announcement of the awards comes shortly after Virgin Atlantic revealed it was chosen to make the first net zero transatlantic flight. The flight, which has secured £1m of government funding, will see a Boeing 787 jet from London Heathrow to New York JFK in 2023. 

Currently, safety regulators only allow a maximum of 50 per cent SAF blended with kerosene to be used in commercial jet engines, but the government said delivering the net-zero transatlantic flight would help accelerate the testing and approval of 100 per cent SAF “to unlock the full decarbonisation potential of this technology”.

Alongside the news, the government is also announcing a further £1.2m for the Zero Emission Flight Infrastructure (ZEFI) project to help develop key airport infrastructure, such as hydrogen re-fuelling technology, for zero emissions aircraft.

The UK was one of the first countries to include curbing aviation emissions in their climate targets in 2021 and helped launch the International Aviation Climate Ambition Coalition at COP26. That same year, British Airways sourced SAF to cover the requirements for all its flights between London, Glasgow and Edinburgh during the COP26 climate conference in October.

In May, a new institute for developing clean, safe and sustainable air travel was created by Imperial College London, to support the industry’s journey to net zero. 

In October, the 193 countries that form the International Civil Aviation Organisation, pledged to support an “aspirational” goal that would see the sector achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. According to airlines, it will require investments of $1.5bn between 2021 and 2050 to decarbonise the sector. 

Future commercial uptake of SAF will depend on developments to increase its availability at scale at an economic price.

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