Air France–KLM, consisting of Air France, KLM Royal Dutch Airlines, and Transavia, is the world’s largest sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) user for the second consecutive year, according to the airline group’s recent sustainability report. To reach its targeted share of SAF consumption of at least 10% by 2030, it signed a series of agreements with producers.
In 2022, Air France-KLM was the world’s largest SAF user, consuming 17% of the entire global supply, compared to only 3% of fossil fuel. This year the group’s members consumed around 80,000 metric tons of SAF altogether – almost twice as much as in 2022, the company said.
Sustainable aviation fuel is a crucial factor for decarbonizing aviation
Sustainable aviation fuel is a crucial factor for decarbonizing aircraft operation, capable of reducing carbon dioxide emissions by 75%. SAF is a liquid fuel that can be produced from various feedstock including waste oils and fats, green and municipal waste, and non-food crops.
There are seven certified biofuel technologies for producing SAF, the most popular one being HEFA (hydrotreated esters and fatty acids). The obtained material is mixed with jet fuel. The process of hydrotreating oils and fats removes all double bonds of carbon and oxygen from the biological feedstock.
It can also be produced synthetically, by combining carbon with green hydrogen or low-carbon hydrogen. The carbon is obtained from carbon dioxide captured from burning fossil fuels or directly from the air. The hydrogen is produced through water electrolysis powered by renewable sources or nuclear power.
Such fuels are compatible with existing aircraft models and do not require engine or infrastructure modifications.
Interestingly, in 2021 KLM Royal Dutch conducted the world’s first commercial flight on synthetic kerosene produced from carbon dioxide and water using renewable energy.
From 2025, airlines in the EU must have a share of green fuel of at least 2%
The volume of air traffic has significantly increased in the last 50 years, leading to a rise in carbon dioxide emissions in the sector by 176%. The segment currently participates with 2.6% in global CO2 emissions. The level is projected to reach 20% before 2050 if there are no significant interventions.
In commercial aviation, 300 million tons of fuel were consumed in 2022, with SAF accounting for less than 0.1%. The European Union recently adopted ReFuelEU, a new regulation requiring aviation fuel suppliers to increase the share of SAF to 6% by 2030.
According to the new rules, kerosene will have to be blended with gradually increasing shares of sustainable aviation fuel. The first mandatory threshold of 2% of green fuel takes effect in 2025, and the 2050 target is 70%.
SAF is four to eight times more expensive than kerosene
Air France–KLM says it has even more ambitious goals. The company plans to incorporate a minimum of 10% of SAF by 2030 and reduce CO2 emissions by 30% per passenger kilometer from the 2019 level.
SAF is four to eight times more expensive than kerosene, which is why demand is weak, and therefore production is, too. Air France–KLM said that to stimulate the supply chain, it has signed several long-term contracts with SAF producers and suppliers in Europe and North and South America. It concluded two strategic partnerships and directly invested in production capacities.