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Sustainable aviation fuel has a key role in decreasing air travel emissions

The objectives for reducing net-carbon emissions for aviation in the coming years can't be achieved without sustainable aviation fuel, or SAF in brief. To increase the use of SAF, the industry needs efficient policymaking, shared responsibility, and wide cooperation between different stakeholders. As an example of this Finnair and Neste work together as forerunners. 

Finnair has purchased 750 tons of Neste MY Sustainable Aviation FuelTM to be used on its flights departing Helsinki Airport. This corresponds to approximately 400 flights between Helsinki and Stockholm using unblended 100% SAF.

“SAF is just like regular fossil-based jet fuel in its chemical makeup and performance. The big difference is that it is not made from fossil crude oil but from recycled raw materials. Using SAF does not increase the carbon in our ecosystem, in contrast using fossil fuel does,” Jonathan Wood, Vice President Commercial and Technical Management, Renewable Aviation at Neste, begins.  

The raw materials used for Neste-produced SAF are biobased waste and residues, such as used cooking oil and animal fat waste. The SAF purchased by Finnair is produced in Finland, in Neste's Porvoo refinery.  

According to Wood, Neste has an ambitious investment plan to increase the production of SAF in the next couple of years.     

“By the end of this year, our SAF production capability will be fifteen times the capability we have today. With other companies also making investments, we believe that we are at a tipping point for SAF production globally,” Wood explains.  

Most important tool we have today 

Air travel continues to grow by several percent every year. Even though advancements in technology and better efficiency mean that fuel consumption doesn't increase by as much, the direction remains upwards and not in line with our Paris climate conference goals to hold global temperature rise to no more than 1.5%. New renewable energy sources such as electricity and hydrogen are being developed but are still a long way away from being ready to use in aviation.

In contrast, SAF is already available today, making it the most important tool to achieve a serious impact on carbon emissions today. 

“It is the only concrete method we have right now to decrease our use of fossil fuel. Offsetting is our other option but that does not directly reduce the emissions air travel causes,” says Mattias Wickholm, Head of Fuel at Finnair.  

The main reason SAF is not widely used yet is its higher cost than regular jet fuel. This is no small challenge in a competitive environment, and with fuel being the biggest cost item for airlines.  

“We have a chicken and egg dilemma, where the cost is higher because of limited availability. And the limited availability is caused by limited demand due to higher cost,” Wood says.   

Wickholm and Wood see that to break this cycle policies to address the price gap and to promote supply and demand are needed.  

“We at Finnair believe that the cost should divide more evenly between different operators. So that airlines are not paying for the entire cost difference alone. State policy is one way to encourage this and is already used in many countries,” Wickholm states.  

Co-operation ensures swift progress 

Both companies believe that both mandatory and voluntary steps are needed. Finnair's purchase of Neste MY Sustainable Aviation Fuel is a good example of a voluntary step taken by an airline.  

Reaching ambitious goals can however only be achieved with the entire value chain sharing responsibility. This includes end-users, such as companies, cargo operators, and private passengers. 

“Many industries will commit to paying for SAF voluntarily to meet their own net-zero targets. Especially corporate business travel and air cargo can create a big impact by choosing SAF,” Wood says.  

Increasing the use of SAF will increase the airline's costs, as SAF is clearly more expensive than fossil fuel. Finnair is preparing for this by allocating a small portion of each flight ticket sold, about 20 cents per ticket, to the cost of sustainable aviation fuel. This share may be higher in the future as the operating obligations imposed on aviation increase the use of SAF.  This small sustainable aviation fuel cost allocated per every flight ticket is one step towards more sustainable air travel. 

Even individual Finnair customers can make an impact.  With Finnair's offsetting service, you can already choose to buy SAF which directly reduces the emissions from flying. 

“We as a company have a very big responsibility in offering all our customers products that support using SAF. We also need to be able to communicate the benefits of choosing SAF and bring this issue closer to our customers,” Wickholm concludes.  

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