Flight100’s path across the Atlantic Ocean may symbolize a new journey that could benefit some farmland owners and the environment. Virgin Atlantic heralded what it called the “historic flight” of the aircraft last month from London Heathrow to JFK in New York. The path itself was not historic; many have accomplished that before. What made this flight unique was what powered the travel: 100% Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF).
Virgin Atlantic said that the flight produced 70% less carbon when compared to a flight that uses petroleum-based jet fuel.
The company’s news release proclaimed that the flight marked, “the culmination of a year of radical collaboration, to demonstrate the capability of SAF as a safe drop-in replacement for fossil-derived jet fuel, compatible with today's engines, airframes and fuel infrastructure.”
Virgin Atlantic also pointed out what it sees as a significant challenge for alternative energy options:
“While other technologies such as electric and hydrogen remain decades away, SAF can be used now. Today, SAF represents less than 0.1% of global jet fuel volumes and fuel standards allow for just a 50% SAF blend in commercial jet engines. Flight100 will prove that the challenge of scaling up production is one of policy and investment, and industry and government must move quickly to create a thriving UK SAF industry.”
It is the fuel, of course, that likely intrigues farmland owners most. Virgin Atlantic said that its SAF has an 88% blend of Hydroprocessed Esters and Fatty Acids (HEFA) and 12% Synthetic Aromatic Kerosene (SAK). In other words, instead of petroleum-based diesel fuel, the company’s fuel would be a combination of waste fats and plant sugars.
“Is climate-friendly flying possible?” That was the question in a Washington Post headline after the Biden administration this month announced federal subsidies for sustainable aviation fuels. Those subsidies could make future Virgin Atlantic flights, and countless others, more realistic. Producers of soybeans, diesel made with animal fat and ethanol could all potentially benefit from increased demand of aviation fuels.
U.S. Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm said, “Sustainable aviation fuel will provide low carbon fuel made here in America to help decarbonize the hardest to reach areas in the transportation sector, and DOE (Department of Energy) is committed to supporting this effort which will lead to cleaner skies for all.”
Each gallon of fuel could qualify for a tax credit of up to $1.75.
Here is the breakdown of the credits, according to the Treasury Department:
“The credit incentivizes the production of SAF that achieves a lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions reduction of at least 50% as compared with petroleum-based jet fuel. Producers of SAF are eligible for a tax credit of $1.25 to $1.75 per gallon. SAF that decreases GHG emissions by 50% is eligible for the $1.25 credit per gallon amount, and SAF that decreases GHG emissions by more than 50% is eligible for an additional $0.01 per gallon for each percentage point the reduction exceeds 50%, up to $0.50 per gallon.
Under the guidance issued today, numerous fuels will qualify for the credit, including valid biomass-based diesel, advanced biofuels, cellulosic biofuel, or cellulosic diesel that have been approved by EPA under the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS).”