Jeff Masters Weather Blog

Most planes are powered by fossil fuels. That could change. » Yale Climate Connections

Most planes are powered by jet fuel that’s made from petroleum.

But those same planes can be powered by what’s known as Sustainable Aviation Fuel — or SAF.

Carnahan: “ … a fuel that is basically chemically identical to fossil jet so that it can be dropped into any airplane and fly just like fossil jet does.”

Kim Carnahan is with the Sustainable Aviation Buyers Alliance. It’s working to increase the use of SAF, to help the aviation industry move away from fossil fuels.

Most SAF is made with organic waste — like fat from beef processing plants, or plant residue left after crops are harvested.

Some is made by combining hydrogen with CO2, which can be captured from factories or power plants.

Carnahan: “So there’s a lot of different things you can make this fuel out of.”

The climate benefit depends a lot on how it’s made. For example, developing new farm fields to grow crops solely for SAF production could increase deforestation — erasing much of the climate benefit.

SAF is also currently very expensive — in part, because the market is so small.

So Carnahan’s group is driving investment in SAF that meets high sustainability standards — to help increase production and reduce the cost of cleaner aviation fuels.

Reporting credit: Sarah Kennedy / ChavoBart Digital Media

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