FAA research grants with hope to deal with aviation’s massive arrears of greener fuel

FAA research grants with hope to deal with aviation’s massive arrears of greener fuel


  • Sustainable aviation fuel accounts for less than 1% of global aviation fuel.
  • The FAA is essentially providing research grants to help drive down the cost of greener sustainable fuel.
  • Airlines, industry groups, and governments have set lofty goals for reducing aviation carbon emissions.

An aim to reduce the demand and supply gap

The Federal Aviation Administration declared a series of new university research grants on 9th Dec. in the hopes of producing greener aviation fuel in abundance and relatively less expensive.

Airlines around the world, including United, Southwest, Delta, American, and others, have switched to sustainable aviation fuel to achieve zero carbon emissions by 2050. Battery-powered aircraft and other technologies are still years away, so greener fuel is an important component of those efforts.

“One of the most difficult sectors to decarbonize is aviation,” said Michael Wolcott, a materials engineer and one of the university coordinators of the FAA-funded research. He cited high capital investment as a challenge, as well as the aircraft’s long life cycle.

Aviation industry accounts for between 2% and 3% of global carbon emissions, and the industry is expected to grow in the coming years. The industry will also strive to strike a balance between its expansion and its ambitious carbon-cutting targets.

Carriers have already committed to purchasing the fuels, such as those made from cooking oil or municipal waste. According to the International Air Transport Association, this can produce up to 80% fewer emissions than traditional jet fuel.

“There hasn’t been a single airline CEO I’ve spoken to in the last six or 12 months who doesn’t want to fly SAF,” John Slattery, CEO of airline engine manufacturer General Electric Aviation, told reporters on December 1.

His remarks came after United Airlines flew (non-paying) passengers, including Slattery, in a Boeing 737 Max 8 with all SAF in one of the plane’s two engines. Initially, an industry sought to draw lawmakers’ attention to how easily carriers could switch from conventional fuel to a greener alternative. They also discussed how to gain incentives to increase production.

Overcoming the challenge of Fuel Scarcity

The supply is extremely limited. Sustainable aviation fuels account for less than 1% of the industry’s jet-fuel demand and can cost more than three times as much as conventional fuel.

While far short of the $250 billion that United CEO Scott Kirby estimates will be required to ramp up production of sustainable aviation fuel. The grants are part of a series of initiatives announced by the Biden administration in September to reduce aviation emissions by 20% by 2030.

Among them was a challenge from the industry to produce 3 billion gallons of sustainable fuel for US airlines by that year. The United States produces only 4.5 million gallons of sustainable aviation fuel per year. This was emphasized by the White House.

Kirby believes the industry requires private partnerships as well as incentives such as tax credits to stimulate supply. He went on to say that the industry should look beyond the food supply for feedstock, such as crops like sugar and corn.

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