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Sustainable aviation fuel industry could bring thousands of jobs to North West but Government must act fast

New modelling by the Global Britain Commission (GBC) shows that a UK Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF) industry could be worth £16.7bn a year in exports by 2050, supporting around 130,000 highly paid jobs. This would not only provide a significant contribution to levelling up and green economic growth but also makes ‘jet zero’ a reality in the UK.

Yet the Government is lacking a sense of urgency in supporting this fledgling industry and the UK risks losing an opportunity for ‘early mover advantage’ as well as falling behind competitors in the US and EU.
SAF is up to 70-80% less carbon emitting and can be produced domestically – meaning less reliance on imports and progress towards Net Zero.

SAF is a globally significant emerging market that presents the UK with a high-value, high-tech, opportunity to increase UK energy security, support UK aviation to decarbonise and become a leading global exporter in a sector where the UK already has competitive advantage.

In its first few years SAF could create 6,500 new well-paid jobs across the UK, including Scotland, Wales, North West England, Teesside and the Humber by 2035, adding £1bn annually to the UK economy.

The Government has recently published its Energy Security White Paper, setting out how the UK can best meet our future energy needs as we transition to Net Zero and wean ourselves off imports from Russia, but has failed to meaningfully acknowledge the importance of SAF.

The Global Britain Commission calls on the Government to act by the end of 2022 to:

– Urgently conclude the mandate policy process and required legislation.
– Implement a contracts for difference scheme for SAF to stimulate private investment in a UK SAF industry – a scheme effectively used to grow the offshore wind industry and now proposed for the fledgeling UK hydrogen market.
– Facilitate capital investment through the UK Infrastructure Bank or UKRI to deliver first of a kind SAF plants, which could number 14 within the next decade and five by 2025.
– Secure a global agreement on a Long Term Aspirational Goal at this year’s 41st International Civil Aviation Organisation Assembly in Montreal.

The aviation industry is potentially one of the most difficult sectors of the economy to decarbonise.

Sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) is a low-carbon alternative jet fuel that is produced from household, agricultural and industrial waste, cooking by-products or through extracting carbon from the air and breaking down the hydrogen bonds in water. Existing aircraft are able (and already do) use SAF, certified up to a 50% blend with traditional jet fuel, as an alternative fuel source without any additional equipment or filtering.

While SAF is currently only 1% of global aviation fuel, it is projected to become the world’s main jet fuel source by 2050 presenting a huge opportunity for the UK.

Sweden and Norway already have SAF mandates and the US and France are about to do the same, while the EU is set to introduce its own more ambitious SAF mandate by 2025.

This could create a large domestic SAF industry which the UK is well positioned to lead. Industry has highlighted 14 potential production sites across the UK which have the existing infrastructure and skills to support the growth of this fast-growing future industry – all of which are in areas in need of ‘levelling up’.

SAF is able to deliver net greenhouse gas reductions of up to 80% compared to traditional jet fuel. This would help the aviation industry and the UK meet their Net Zero targets by 2050 and also put the UK at the forefront of one of the world’s leading aviation climate solutions.

However GBC warns that the Government needs to act now to enable SAF production in the UK within 5 years, seizing an opportunity in this globally significant emerging market, as other countries are doing, such as the US which is quickly advancing their own capabilities to produce SAF.

Despite starting the process in July 2021 (nine months ago), the UK Government is still yet to respond to the consultation or set out its position on mandates. A decision is not expected until 2023 which will allow other countries to gain a lead on the UK.

SAF will be the single biggest contributor to carbon emission reductions in the aviation industry up to 2050, reductions needed to reach HMG’s Net Zero target.

Shai Weiss, CEO of Virgin Atlantic said:

“In this decade, Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF) is the key solution for decarbonisation of the aviation sector and if the government chooses to act with pace, focus and determination, the UK could play a leading role in global SAF production.

Virgin Atlantic has set a 10% SAF target for 2030 and is working with industry and technology partners to develop a UK SAF industry at scale. But action is needed now. Alongside fleet renewal, SAF represents the best opportunity for the aviation sector to achieve decarbonisation in the medium term.”

Amy Tinley, Director of the Global Britain Commission said: “The Government now needs to turn rhetoric into reality and invest in sustainable aviation fuel. This is a huge opportunity for the UK and a potentially massive global market as all countries will have to find less carbon intensive ways to travel.

We need to move quickly or we will miss out on the exports, jobs and investment that we so desperately need and a UK sustainable fuel industry can bring”.