SAF remains air cargo’s future fuel focus

Photo: petrmalinak/ Shutterstock

Clean fuel alternatives to Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF) are unlikely to be available for long-haul air cargo flights for more than 10 years.

Frederik van de Ven, global sustainability director at Air France KLM Martinair Cargo told Air Cargo News during DHL’s recent “Powering the Future of Logistics with Sustainable Fuels” webinar that the timeframe of e-fuel development is uncertain and SAF will be “crucial” for 2030 decarbonisation targets.

Responding to Air Cargo News’ question of when might it be feasible for hydrogen freighters to take flight, if at all, and is SAF the only contender for air cargo, van de Ven said: “After 2035, or around 2035, we will start to see different types of aircraft, specifically on short distance.

“I don’t think on long distance flights, which is the case for air cargo most of the time, we will move very quickly to a completely different kind of fuel. The e-fuels will come but I don’t know if that will be after 2035.”

Replacing older aircraft with more efficient models and investing in SAF will be the focus for cargo airlines looking to cut emissions, said van de Ven.

“For full freighters specifically, in the short term, the biggest steps can be made by investing in new planes,” he said.

“If an airline invests now in a new plane then they reduce immediately almost 20% of their CO2 emissions. That’s in the short-term.

“In the mid-term, and I’m talking about in the coming 10, maybe 15 years, I think SAF is going to be crucial for 2030 targets. If we don’t invest in that and if the market doesn’t ramp up for SAF then the airlines need to find a better solution, which I don’t see at the moment.”

Henrik von Storch, team lead clean operations office at Deutsche Post DHL added that the payloads for current hydrogen and battery electric developments are low.

“The impacts for carbon reduction will be quite limited,” whereas we are now seeing the first 100% SAF developments in the industry, he said.

He said that regarding drop-in fuels, several SAF pathways have been approved for 50% blending with the aim of getting to 100%.

Van de Ven noted that worldwide production of SAF is expected by 2023, but production depends on “long-term demand commitments”.

He said that the price of SAF has decreased “drastically” since the first flight using the fuel in 2009.

It is now two to three times more expensive than jet fuel, compared to 15 times more expensive in 2009.

Speaking about whether there are any synergies between airports and seaports on e-fuels production, storage and accessibility, von Storch said: “A power to liquid e-fuel facility can produce several fuels. It’s easier to produce a thin crude, which is similar to crude oil, which is then split into different types of fuel.”

He said it is most economical to produce SAF alongside other types of fuel, for example for road and maritime operations.

But drop-in fuels already have their own infrastructure and storage, so there wouldn’t be much cross-industry use here.

Specifically speaking about methanol and ammonia, which is currently being invested in within the maritime sector and require their own infrastructure and storage capacities, von Storch said: “I don’t see any synergies with airports”.

A recent webinar held by Air Cargo News‘ sister title FlightGlobal found that cost is the single biggest challenge for adoption of hydrogen and electric technology in both passenger and cargo aircraft.

Cost is the biggest hurdle for hydrogen and electric aircraft

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Rebecca Jeffrey

Rebecca Jeffrey
New to aviation journalism, I joined Air Cargo News in late 2021 as deputy editor. I previously worked for Mercator Media’s six maritime sector magazines as a reporter, heading up news for Port Strategy. Prior to this, I was editor for Recruitment International (now TALiNT International). Contact me on: [email protected]