What is Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF)?

What is Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF)?

The aviation industry contributes approximately 2% of global emissions. It’s a sector that’s hard to decarbonize, meanwhile, the demand for air travel continues to grow. According to a scientific study titled Pathways to net-zero emissions from aviation, improvements in aircraft energy efficiency could collectively mitigate up to 27% of CO2 (equivalent to 1.2 billion tons) of projected business-as-usual aviation emissions by 2050. The driving force behind this transformation is sustainable aviation fuel (SAF), an innovative fuel produced from renewable and waste resources, targeted at reducing greenhouse gas emissions while promising a cleaner future for the planet.

How sustainable aviation fuel works

Corporations are increasingly more focused on addressing their GHG emissions. SAF is projected to play a critical role in helping not only the aviation industry reduce its emissions, but in allowing corporations with extensive corporate travel to reduce their Scope 3 emissions.  

For years, the main CO2 mitigation tool at the aviation industry’s disposal was carbon offsets which allowed the industry to compensate for its emissions without directly reducing them. Sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) tackles the issue at its core as it is a replacement jet fuel that directly reduces the aviation industry's carbon footprint. At AIR COMPANY, we're proud to be part of this transformative shift with our pioneering AIRMADE™ SAF technology that converts CO2 into a cleaner-burning aviation fuel that has the same chemical composition as traditional jet fuel.

Our AIRMADE™ Systemwhich creates our SAF, is a scalable, modular technology solution that transforms our most problematic greenhouse gas—carbon dioxide—into an endless resource. This technology converts it into fuels and carbon-negative chemicals, capable of decarbonizing some of the world's hardest-to-abate industries. 


What is our sustainable aviation fuel made of?

A step-by-step process

Carbon Transformation

This is AIR COMPANY’s key innovative technology that converts greenhouse gasses into liquid products such as fuel.

CO2 Capture

We work with partners to acquire our CO2. They capture it from industrial plants before it's emitted into the atmosphere. The CO2 is then cooled, pressurized and liquified, and then sent to our facility in tanks ready for the next stage. As we continue to scale, we prefer to work with biogenic CO2 for life cycle emission benefits.

Electrolysis

On-site electrolysis powered by renewable energy splits water into hydrogen and oxygen. The oxygen is vented as clean air, while the hydrogen is prepared for the Carbon Conversion Reactor.

Carbon Conversion

The core of the AIRMADE™ System is the patented Carbon Conversion Reactor. Here, the captured CO2 and green hydrogen meet in a tubular, fixed-bed flow system filled with a proprietary catalyst. This facilitates a chemical reaction that produces a reactor liquid composed of an oil (or hydrocarbon) layer and an aqueous (or water) layer.

Separation

The oil is separated from the water to result in a synthetic crude.

Post-Processing

The post-processing stage is an integral step in the process that is necessary to align the final product with the rigorous requirements of engine and aircraft Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs) and the property requirements of the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) D7566 specification.

Upgrading

The synthetic crude is processed through reactors based on conventional refinery technology to produce a fully formulated synthetic middle distillate. This includes the following steps:


1. Hydrogenation

Conversion of the raw fuel mixture into saturated hydrocarbons (called paraffins) by removing impurities, essential for creating 100% drop-in SAF.

2. Isomerization

Transformation of the paraffins from straight-chain to branched hydrocarbons, enhancing the freezing point, crucial for high-altitude performance.

3. Hydrogenation Pt. II

Conversion of aromatics to cycloparaffins through saturation of carbon-carbon double bonds, improving SAF's density and freezing point.

4. Distillation

A specialized distillation process separates the synthetic middle distillate by boiling point into jet fuel, diesel and other fuel components.

So it’s e-SAF?

Unlike other SAF pathways that rely on biological feedstocks, e-SAF is a groundbreaking synthetic fuel that requires green hydrogen and carbon dioxide (biogenic or non-biogenic) to offer a clean, low-carbon alternative to fossil-based jet fuels. 

Short for "electro-fuelled sustainable aviation fuel," e-SAF is manufactured through a closed-loop system that essentially recycles carbon emissions, offering a deep reduction in lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions in comparison to fossil jet fuel. e-SAF can be carbon neutral if it is produced using biogenic or atmospheric CO2. Once the e-SAF is combusted, the emitted CO2 returns to the atmosphere where it was previously removed from, thus not adding any new emissions unlike fossil fuels The electricity powering this process is derived from renewable energy sources like solar, wind or hydro.

Did you know? E-SAF can reduce greenhouse gas emissions by as much as 100% compared to conventional jet fuel according to the World Economic Forum. 

Why should we switch to sustainable aviation fuel?


Climate Change Mitigation


Adopting sustainable aviation fuels offers a holistic approach to reducing global GHG emissions and decoupling economic growth from environmental impacts. Our technology, for example, allows us to recycle CO2 by taking CO2 that otherwise would have been vented into the atmosphere as waste and turning it into a renewable feedstock for producing SAF. By using biogenic CO2, we ensure that AIRMADE™ SAF operates within the natural carbon cycle and does not add additional emissions to the atmosphere. The biggest environmental benefit of such SAF is through displacement of conventional jet fuel which is significantly more carbon-intensive.  


Energy Security 


SAF pathways rely on novel sustainable feedstocks, which offers an opportunity to diversify where the fuels that the modern economy depends on come from. By diversifying the feedstocks and moving away from reliance on fossil fuels, SAF offers additional benefits such as energy security and supply chain diversification.

Environmental Justice and Energy Equity 


SAFs can also offer non-CO2 environmental and societal benefits. At AIR COMPANY, our mission is to mitigate climate change while advancing a more equitable and just energy system. Compared to conventional jet fuel, AIRMADE™ SAF is expected to create “co-benefits” that will help address environmental injustices, such as poor air quality. For example, our fuels burn cleaner than the incumbents and have fewer non-CO2 pollutants. This directly translates into positive economic and health benefits for society—less money spent on mitigating air pollution, smog, and the health impacts they cause. Furthermore, our technology is designed to be modular, which offers flexibility to deploy it anywhere near demand. This benefit is particularly notable when compared to fossil fuels that are available only in certain geographies. Flexible deployment of other technology could mean energy equity by improving energy access for all. 

Performance Breakthroughs

The cleaner burning properties help reduce harmful non-CO2 emissions, enhancing local air quality around airports and contributing to a healthier planet. 


More benefits of SAFs (and a few challenges)


SAFs contain fewer aromatic components compared to conventional jet fuels. This reduction leads to less particulate matter being emitted from the engines, which in turn reduces the formation of contrails (condensation trails)—the white lines you see in the sky behind high-flying jets. They’re known to contribute to climate change by trapping outgoing longwave radiation. According to several studies, contrails are responsible for around 35% of all of the planetary warming from aviation. NASA and the German Aerospace Center (DLR) conclude that sustainable, cleaner-burning jet fuels can reduce ice crystal contrail formation at cruising altitude by 50%-70%, lessening a flight’s environmental impact.

Not all is clear skies, though. Some of the primary challenges for a full SAF rollout include funding for research and development, limited networks that impede the development of climate-ready logistics and operations, as well as sustainable feedstock sources (such as waste oils and agricultural residues) which can constrain the industry’s expansion. The current technologies for SAF production are more expensive than conventional jet fuel production, making SAF less economically competitive without subsidies or incentives.

Transitioning to 100% sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) would revolutionize the aviation industry.

Making a lasting impact

Beyond the numbers and the technology lies an ethical dimension. The International Civil Aviation Organization has adopted a long-term global aspirational goal for international aviation of net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 in support of the UNFCCC Paris Agreement's 1.5C goal. With its potential to dramatically reduce lifecycle carbon emissions, SAFs are not just an option; they are a critical variable in the aviation industry's carbon equation. 

For sustainable aviation fuels (SAFs) to become widely available, several challenges persist including high production costs, policy uncertainty, green premium and the “who pays” question, feedstocks aggregation and distribution at scale and the complexities of securing capital for novel projects. 

When we better understand what sustainable aviation fuel is and its impact on the aviation industry and environment, we can more effectively implement this technology, influence policy and carve out a path toward long-term change.

SAFs, with their potential to dramatically reduce lifecycle carbon emissions, are not just an option; they are a critical variable in the aviation industry's carbon equation. 

Sustainable Aviation Fuel, made from CO₂
AIRMADE™ SAF
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