Beyond sustainable aviation fuel: How can we decarbonize business travel?

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Beyond sustainable aviation fuel: How can we decarbonize business travel?

By Olivier Benoit, Principal & Senior Vice President, Global

David Keller with Deplacement Pros, a leading French-speaking business travel news outlet, spoke with Advito’s Senior Vice President, Olivier Benoit, following his insightful session at GBTA Conference 2023 in Dallas to discuss the role that sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) plays in decarbonizing the airline industry.

This excerpt from their Q&A examines whether newer technologies, including SAF, will play a pivotal role in creating a sustainable future for travel. This excerpt has been edited for length and clarity.

Could SAF be the solution to sustainable travel?

David Keller: You mentioned that sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) will not decarbonize the airline industry. Does this mean companies, such as IATA, are on the wrong track?

Olivier Benoit: I believe that SAF is part of the solution, but it won’t make as significant of an impact as people think. For example, IATA’s projection that SAF will contribute up to 65% of their net-zero objective that has been set for 2050 is not realistic. At the rate that SAF can currently be produced, it won’t be possible to see that large of an impact.

DK: In this net zero plan, do any of the other strategies IATA mentions seem more serious to you?

OB: In addition to this 65% contribution by SAF, IATA talks about linking 19% of their reduction goal to carbon offsetting. I hope that IATA is thinking about “quality offsets” and not simply planting trees, which we now know is very unsatisfactory. But I don’t know what they have in mind for this category.

They also talk about 13% of the reduction being linked to new technologies. Specifically, they are planning to use carbon capture, a technology that is currently in the prototype stage. The scientific concept behind carbon capture has been validated, and we can imagine that the factories to make it possible will be built and operational sometime in the future. They are also considering the positive effects of new-generation aircraft, which consume 15% to 20% less fuel thanks to their engines, lighter materials, and aerodynamics. We can also imagine that by 2050, new generations of fleets will be even more efficient in this area.

How sustainable technologies are impacting the air industry

DK: In these new technologies, you did not mention the electric plane and the hydrogen plane.

OB: These are both examples of prototypes that are still in development and facing significant challenges. What we know today is that enormous quantities of hydrogen are required to create energy equivalent to kerosene fuel. In addition, it must be condensed and therefore requires a tank that can withstand colossal pressure, making it very heavy and contradictory with the principles of flying.

DK: Assuming these technologies are mastered, the question arises of how much energy will need to be used to produce the necessary hydrogen.

OB: Yes, its production is very energy-intensive, meaning that to effectively reduce our carbon footprint, the energy used to produce it must be clean. This is the same challenge that we’re currently facing in SAF production. SAF releases the same amount of carbon emissions as fossil fuel when it’s burned in the atmosphere, but when it’s produced with clean energy, that is where is becomes more carbon efficient over its total lifecycle.

DK: Let’s come back to the SAF. What do you think is an attainable level to reach as far as production?

OB: I don’t have a crystal ball regarding future progress, but I would say we could reach 15% to 25% by 2050, which, keep in mind, is close to three times less than the 65% that IATA is talking about in this same timeframe. Today, production covers only 0.5% of the industry’s needs, so the road ahead is very long.

How travel programs can make a difference

DK: So, does this mean the only way to get closer to net-zero, in your opinion, is to reduce air travel?

OB: It is true, we must remember that in addition to technology, the other area where we can make a significant impact is by flying less. I think there will be downward pressure from multiple avenues. First, corporate policies are becoming “greener”. Second, more and more regulations will emerge, which will prove challenging to corporates, but also for the populations of emerging economies who often rely on fossil fuels to drive development.

DK: As a travel manager, what can I be doing, at my level, to contribute to the decarbonization of air travel apart from promoting traveling less?

OB: As previously mentioned, SAF is part of the solution and it’s worth investing in. A company can do this directly with SAF suppliers, which we recommend, or with brokers or airlines. There are also opportunities to invest directly with your TMC as they build partnerships with SAF suppliers. So, explore the avenue that suits you best and go for it!

One example of a SAF supplier that we recommend at Advito is SkyNRG. While we do not have a partnership in place with them, our research has found that they are the most rigorous in terms of quality of SAF, with a clean production method.

DK: Let’s take this particular case of SkyNRG. If I, as a travel manager, want to convince the board of my company to use their offer, how would it work?

OB: The company will purchase SAF directly from SkyNRG. There is a model in place that ensures that the fuel is delivered and that the company which invested recovers the carbon credits corresponding to its investment which is calculated on the “green premium”, i.e. that is to say the CO2 saved by having used one ton of SAF rather than a ton of kerosene. This delta is credited and a certificate attesting to it is issued. This saving is considered in the company’s non-financial reporting, which is now mandatory to report in Europe.

Want to learn more about how you can bring sustainable practices into your air program? Contact our team today.

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