Sustainable aviation: United & Etihad make moves toward SAF

Sustainable aviation: United & Etihad make moves toward SAF

Two major airlines have announced their latest efforts towards making their businesses more sustainable with United Airlines announcing its partnership with NEXT Renewable Fuels and Etihad investing in sustainable aviation fuel (SAF).

United’s partnership with next will allow the airline and NEXT to begin producing biofuel in a refinery in 2026.

NEXT is a Houston-based company developing the biorefinery which, at full production, could produce up to 50,000 barrels per day of SAF, renewable diesel, and other renewable fuels. United could invest as much as US$37.5 million (AUD$56.2 million) into NEXT, as long as the company meets certain milestone targets.

“Right now, one of the biggest barriers to increasing supply and lowering costs of sustainable fuel is that we don’t have the infrastructure in place to transport it efficiently, but NEXT’s strategic location and assets solve that problem and provide a blueprint for future facilities that need to be built,” Michael Leskinen, president of United Airline Ventures, said.

“We believe this investment will not only bolster NEXT’s ambitions and create near-term solutions to expand our SAF supply, but further demonstrates our commitment toward producing SAF at the scale necessary to decarbonise the aviation industry.”

NEXT’s biorefinery offers several unique benefits including access to a deep-water port, an existing industrial-grade dock, and multi-modal logistics options, which facilitates access to feedstock options and fast-growth SAF offtake markets on the west coast.

NEXT has secured an agreement with BP for sourcing 100 percent of its feedstock, further de-risking supply issues smaller facilities have historically experienced. NEXT has also received a crucial air permit from the State of Oregon. Once all the necessary approvals and permits are obtained and the biorefinery is operational, it has the potential to be used as a platform to scale SAF and deploy additional future technologies.

“The clean fuels industry is taking off and our access to feedstocks, multi-modal distribution, and major industry players positions us to be a leading SAF supplier on the West Coast,” said Christopher Efird, CEO and chairperson of NEXT.

“United’s investment in NEXT strengthens our resolve to be one of the clean fuels leaders in the transportation sector.”

Etihad invests in biofuel

Etihad Airways and World Energy, a carbon-net-zero solutions provider, announced the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to establish a long-term strategic partnership to decarbonise flights through in-sector emissions reductions.

Etihad is the first commercial airline to participate in World Energy’s recently launched service for airline and corporate climate leaders taking real action to achieve net-zero goals.

“We are making long-term commitments with leaders to decarbonise transport,” Gene Gebolys, CEO, World Energy said.

“Our work with Etihad is strategic and rooted in purpose. It will drive innovation and accountability so we can scale sustainable fuels and make a real and impactful reduction toward effectively decarbonising aviation.”

The announcement comes on the heels of the two companies powering the first net-zero flight using Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF) via a Book & Claim system. This is accomplished by displacing approximately 26,000 gallons of petroleum-based jet fuel through the use of net-zero equivalent gallons of World Energy’s SAF at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX).

The result was the elimination of approximately 250 metric tons of carbon related to Etihad’s regular routing flight from Washington Dulles to Abu Dhabi during COP27.

Mariam Alqubaisi, head of sustainability & business excellence, Etihad Airways, said: “Our NetZero flight proved Book & Claim is the only feasible path to net-zero commercial aviation using current technology and is the transition framework required until the supply of sustainable aviation fuel reaches its maturity and availability.

“Net-zero commercial aviation is possible, but we have to be honest as an industry and say there are significant logistical challenges to using SAF at present.

“We are committed to using actual SAF on our flights from the U.S. and across the world when we can secure a sustainable and efficient supply at the airports we serve.”

The Book & Claim MOU between Etihad and World Energy establishes the pending agreement between the two companies, which is the first of its kind, long-term contract to supply an airline with the environmental attributes associated with SAF produced in Los Angeles, California.

World Energy, working with logistics partners, will deliver the physical SAF to LAX, which will displace conventional fossil fuel required by aircraft flying out of the airport. Etihad will receive the emission reductions in the form of SAF certificates (SAFc) once World Energy blends the SAF and it achieves “drop-in” ASTM certification.

Etihad in turn will be able to include their customers on the certificates, which will allow those customers to mitigate the emissions related to business flights. Both the physical SAF delivery and the SAFc ownership transfer will be independently verified by an auditor.

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