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Airline signs with UK refinery but questions remain over sustainable aviation fuel’s net zero credentials
British Airways has signed a deal for aircraft fuel made from recycled cooking oils and other household waste to be produced at scale in the UK and to be in use as early as 2022 to help power its flights.
The airline revealed on Thursday evening it had reached the agreement with a refinery in north Lincolnshire to purchase thousands of tonnes of sustainable aviation fuel (SAF), which it said would add up to the equivalent of 700 transatlantic flights on a Boeing 787 with net zero carbon emissions.
BA has committed to power 10% of its flights with SAFs by 2030, and has forged partnerships with US fuel suppliers as well as invested in a future waste-to-fuel plant to be constructed in the north-east of England.
The deal with the Phillips 66 Humber refinery will bring commercial production of greener jet fuel to the UK earlier than anticipated. While SAFs still produce carbon emissions in flight, the recycling reduces “lifecycle CO2 emissions” by more than 80% compared with traditional jet fuel, the airlines say.
Sean Doyle, BA’s chief executive, said it was “another important step on our journey to net zero carbon emissions”, adding: “The UK has the resources and capabilities to be a global leader in the development of SAF, and scaling up the production of SAF requires a truly collaborative approach between industry and government.”
Darren Cunningham, the refinery’s general manager, said the site would be the first in the UK to produce SAFs at scale. “We’re currently refining almost half a million litres of sustainable waste feedstocks a day, and this is just a start. Markets for lower-carbon products are growing, and this agreement demonstrates our ability to supply them.”
BA’s parent company, IAG, was an early leader in committing to achieving net zero carbon emissions by 2050 – albeit largely through offsetting, which is viewed with much scepticism by environmental groups.
Sustainable fuels are seen as the only medium-term solution for cutting aviation emissions, especially for long-haul flights, although airlines and manufacturers have claimed electric passenger jets could be in service by 2035.
On Wednesday, United Airlines operated a passenger flight from Chicago to Washington which it said was the first to be powered by 100% sustainable fuel. The fuel was used in one of the two engines, to meet rules that permit a maximum 50% blend of SAFs with kerosene.
The Aviation Environment Federation has argued that SAFs rely on removing greenhouse gas emissions elsewhere in the economy in a similar way to offsets yet release as much CO2 as jet fuel when burned in flight; also they can be expensive and energy-intensive to produce and cause further emissions.