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Synthetic aviation fuel has yet to take off in Europe: study

The EU has set targets for using synthetic sustainable aviation fuels in European flights but no projects to produce the fuel have yet received a final investment decision, a study published Wednesday said. Transport and Environment, a non-governmental organisation that promotes sustainable transport, said it had identified 25 large-scale industrial plus another 20 pilot projects to produce synthetic sustainable aviation fuel in Europe. However, it said none of these projects had yet to reach a final investment decision where companies and investors commit money to develop the project. Aviation is responsible for between two to three percent of global CO2 emissions but it is one of the most difficult industries to decarbonise. The EU last year adopted legislation that will require to airlines to gradually increase their use of sustainable aviation fuels (SAF) — both those developed from biomass and synthetic sources — in order to decarbonise the industry. Starting next year, the European aviation sector will be required to use two percent SAF, rising to six percent in 2030, when synthetic SAF should account for 1.2 percent. Transport and Energy said the industrial synthetic SAF projects it identified have potential production capacity of 1.7 million tonnes, more than the 600,000 tonnes needed to meet the 1.2 percent requirement. But until final investment decisions, the “capacity referenced in this analysis should be considered as hypothetical until they actually materialise,” said the study. Jerome du Boucher, who follows the aviation sector at Transport and Environment, said “we need to pass from theory to practice and ensure these (synthetic SAF) projects get off the ground, otherwise the law will be just wishful thinking.” Synthetic SAF is produced by combining green hydrogen with CO2 to create a liquid fuel that can be burned by most commercial aircraft in use. While synthetic SAF could be produced from CO2 obtained from industrial exhaust gasses or pulling it out of the atmosphere, Transport and Enviroment found that the projects plan to source it from decomposing biomatter. Norway had the most synthetic SAF projects on the drawing board, followed by France, Germany and Sweden. Transport and Environment said it was surprised that Spain was far behind as it has taken a lead in projects to produce green hydrogen needed for synthetic SAF.

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