Environmental Defense Fund issues handbook on sustainable aviation fuels

Published on August 24, 2022 by Dave Kovaleski

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The Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) has published a new handbook that offers guidance for companies, airlines, policymakers, and fuel producers to advance the use of high-integrity sustainable aviation fuels (SAF).

EDF’s High-Integrity SAF Handbook provides solutions to the sector’s most pressing challenges in transitioning from fossil jet fuel to cleaner fuels.

“If we take the right steps to advance the use of high-integrity SAF, it has incredible potential to change the nature of flight for the better,” said report author Pedro Piris-Cabezas, director of sustainable international transport and lead senior economist at Environmental Defense Fund. “This Handbook reveals a pathway to do just that. We can create a cleaner future of flight without sacrificing ecosystems or communities while cleaning up the air near airports. We can do all that by producing, investing in, purchasing, and incentivizing high-integrity SAF.”

SAF, developed from feedstocks, could help fully decarbonize aviation by 2050. However, it must be high-integrity — meaning it must adhere to strong environmental and social safeguards. EDF points out that there are many elements and obstacles to consider. One primary consideration when deploying SAF is the need to avoid causing indirect land-use changes (ILUC), meaning it does not divert edible crops or land used to grow food and does not contribute to deforestation or habitat destruction.

“We won’t solve our climate problems by producing SAF in ways that cause deforestation or divert land that is needed to grow food and feed. If we aren’t careful, we can do more harm than good,” Piris-Cabezas said. “By channeling investment to high-integrity SAF that delivers the highest emissions reductions, which would also be the most cost-effective way forward, we can benefit the climate, ecosystems, and communities all at once.”

Microsoft Corp. contributed to the handbook’s preface, outlining how the company intends to support high-integrity SAF in its efforts to become carbon negative by 2030. For example, the company has increased its internal Scope 3 business travel fee to $100 per mtCO2e to support the purchase of SAF. This price signal will have the potential to unlock high-integrity SAF soon when paired with effective national policies.

“There is increased corporate momentum on carbon reduction commitments. But for all that energy to help achieve climate stability effectively and transparently, we need to accelerate the maturation and adoption of industry standards for carbon accounting,” Lucas Joppa, chief environment officer, and Julia Fidler, group sustainability manager, procurement, with Microsoft, wrote in a foreword to the handbook. “This handbook provides a solid foundation to help build a resilient sustainability and accounting framework for sustainable aviation fuels that can guide investment decisions while avoiding stranded assets and unintended consequences on ecosystems and people.”

In addition to providing guidance for companies, the handbook also identifies three key opportunities for policymakers to support high-integrity SAF. First, policy should support high-integrity SAF production by ensuring that only feedstocks with low indirect land-use change (ILUC) risk are eligible for financial support. Second, policy should leverage financial support for high-integrity SAF that offers the highest emissions reductions. Third, policy can support processes to avoid double counting and ensure emissions reductions from SAF are accurately accounted for.