The Sustainable Aviation Buyers Alliance, the group of companies that says they’ll offset flight emissions by investing in the still developing environmentally-friendly aviation fuel market, said Wednesday it is expanding with an initiative meant to lower the cost and boost the supply of sustainable fuel globally.
Amazon Air AMZN, +0.41%, Alaska Airlines ALK, -0.43%, JetBlue JBLU, -0.66%, and United Airlines UAL, -0.52% are the founding members of the new Aviators Group, which has a mission to “drive investment in high-integrity sustainable aviation fuels and accelerate the transition to net zero emissions air transport,” SABA said.
A joint initiative of clean-energy nonprofit RMI and the Environmental Defense Fund, SABA was launched in April 2021. The new Aviators Group enables SABA to send an even stronger demand signal to drive greater production, price reduction and technological innovation of sustainable aviation fuel, the group claims.
Air travel generates nearly 2.5% of global emissions. That’s a figure projected to rise rapidly in coming years, especially as jet fuel demand is expected to reach double pre-pandemic levels by 2050, SABA said.
High-integrity sustainable fuel available today has the potential to dramatically reduce the carbon intensity of flying, but currently represents less than 0.1% of global aviation fuel due to insufficient, disaggregated demand and cost barriers.
“Sustainable aviation fuels are critical to decarbonizing aviation and to Alaska’s path to reach net zero by 2040,” said Ben Minicucci, CEO of Alaska Airlines. “But production and supply are not yet where our industry needs them to be.”
The aviation industry says sustainable fuels can help them deliver near-term emissions reductions, arguing the technology provides an effective solution for reducing the sector’s emissions in the short- to medium-term. That’s in part because other solutions, such as electric- or hydrogen-powered flight at scale remains in its relative infancy.
The carriers concede the need for greater investment ahead.
“Making sustainable travel a reality will require extensive investment in low-carbon technologies such as sustainable aviation fuel by our entire industry, and through SABA we can work collaboratively with our customers on real solutions to address climate change,” said United Airlines CEO Scott Kirby, who said United has invested in more than twice the publicly announced sustainable aviation fuel commitments as all the world’s other airlines combined.
Environmental groups and other critics still question the scale of the emissions savings on offer from such fuels and suggest there are still not sufficient sustainable-fuel feedstocks, or raw materials, to replace traditional fossil fuels CL00, -2.60% powering flights. These critics suggest the key to curbing flight emissions lies with more development of hydrogen and other solutions, and raising prices and other actions to curb demand for flights, especially for short hops.
Cargo flights will also have a role in the new initiative, led by retail giant Amazon’s own fleet. Amazon has announced several steps to try to limit the large carbon footprint its speedy delivery promise has created.
“We’re already reducing carbon across our air network, from our ground operations — where we were the first to use electric main deck loaders in North America — to our fleet and network design,” said Sarah Rhoads, vice president of Amazon Global Air.
“By working together with other companies, we are demonstrating there is strong and growing demand for the rapid deployment of cost-effective sustainable aviation fuels, which will help Amazon meet our commitment to reach net-zero carbon by 2040,” she said.
Flight customers are an important piece of the group’s initiative and it has signed on major corporations. Meta FB (formerly the Facebook company) joins existing members Bank of America BAC, Boeing BA, Boston Consulting Group, Deloitte, JPMorgan Chase JPM, McKinsey & Company, Microsoft MSFT, Netflix NFLX and Salesforce CRM.
The SABA announcement was revealed during a panel discussion hosted by SABA at the U.N.’s COP 26 climate talks in Glasgow, which included opening remarks by Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg. He challenged SABA to accelerate procurement and come to COP 27 with significant new sustainable fuel agreements.