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The United Kingdom’s ambitious plan to implement a Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF) mandate for the aviation sector is encountering hurdles in production feasibility. The mandate, unveiled recently, sets annual targets for jet fuel suppliers, starting at 2% in 2025 and progressively increasing to 22% by 2040. However, concerns are emerging regarding the availability of sufficient feedstocks and refining capacity to meet these targets.

At the Sustainable Aviation Fuel Supply Chain Initiative in London, Hazel Schofield, Deputy Head of Low Carbon Fuels at the Department for Transport, elucidated on the mandate’s primary objective. She highlighted its aim to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, supporting the UK’s net-zero commitment. The mandate aligns with the Jet Zero Strategy, establishing a long-term incentive for SAF supply.

Gradual Restriction on HEFA Fuels

The mandate encompasses a variety of eligible fuels, including biofuels derived from waste or residues, recycled carbon fuels, low-carbon hydrogen, and power-to-liquid fuels. Notably, it imposes a cap on hydroprocessed esters and fatty acids (HEFA) fuels.

While HEFA fuels currently dominate the SAF supply in the UK and Europe, Schofield emphasised the need to promote “generation two” fuels sourced from feedstocks like municipal solid waste. The HEFA cap will gradually reduce HEFA’s share of the UK’s SAF supply to 71% by 2030 and further to 35% by 2040.

Mixed Industry Reactions

Industry stakeholders have offered mixed reactions to the mandate. Matt Finch, UK Policy Manager at Transport & Environment (T&E), expressed disappointment, labelling the mandate “underwhelming.” He criticised the “measly 3.5% PtL sub-mandate in 2040,” contrasting it with the European Union’s more ambitious 10% E-Fuels 2040 sub-mandate. Finch also raised concerns about whether the 22% SAF mandate by 2040 would be adequate to accommodate the potential growth of UK aviation.

Conversely, Lara Maughan from the International Air Transport Association (IATA) praised the mandate as “pragmatic and helpful.” She acknowledged the necessity to prioritise SAF scale-up while recognising the dynamic nature of the SAF ecosystem.

As the UK proceeds with its SAF mandate, the aviation industry awaits further developments, hoping for a balanced approach that addresses both environmental objectives and operational realities.

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