UK Transport Secretary Grant Shapps announced a pledge to deliver the first-ever net-zero emissions transatlantic flight, powered by 100% sustainable aviation fuel by the end of next year.

With the announcement, Shapps also launched a competition to support industry participants including airlines, fuel producers, aircraft or engine manufacturers and fuel suppliers to participate in the initiative, with up to £1 million in funding for testing, research and personnel costs.

Sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) is seen as one of the key tools to help decarbonize the aviation industry, which currently accounts for 2-3% of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. SAF is generally produced from sustainable resources, like waste oils and agricultural residues. SAF producers estimate the fuels can generate up to 80% greenhouse gas emissions saving relative to conventional fuels. To achieve net zero flights SAF use would need to be combined with GHG removals.

Typically, airlines are currently permitted to only use a maximum of 50% SAF on flights. In its announcement, the UK government committed to accelerating testing and approval of 100% SAF use.

In addition to the regulatory requirements, additional barriers to greater SAF use include high fuel production costs, the need for significant investment to scale infrastructure and production, and feedstock availability. The government outlined several initiatives it is pursuing to address these challenges and support the development of a domestic SAF sector, including the exploration of a SAF mandate, and the recent announcement of £180 million of funding over the next 3 years to accelerate the commercialisation of SAF plants and the establishment of a fuel testing clearing house in the UK.

Shapps said:

“This trailblazing net zero emissions flight, a world first, will demonstrate the vital role that sustainable aviation fuel can play in decarbonising aviation in line with our ambitious net zero targets. 

“That’s not just great news for the environment, it’s great news for passengers who will be able to visit the Big Apple without increasing damaging greenhouse gas emissions.”

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