Emirates has joined a list of airlines that are forging ahead with plans to explore sustainable aviation fuel, or SAF, as decarbonization and climate change action looms in the international transport sector.
The carrier in a statement on Nov. 16 said it had inked a memorandum of understanding with GE Aviation to develop a program that will see an Emirates Boeing 777-300ER, powered by GE90 engines, conduct a test flight using 100% SAF by the end of 2022.
The move is in line with both companies' broader efforts to reduce CO2 emissions as the industry looks to scale up its use of SAF.
"Our partnership with GE Aviation to prepare for the test flight will be an important step towards securing certification of flights that are powered by 100% SAF," Adel Al Redha, chief operating officer, Emirates Airline, said.
Currently, SAF approved for use is a blend of petroleum-based Jet A or Jet A-1 fuel and a SAF component with a maximum blend limit of 50%.
One of GE's fuel experts chairs an international task force to develop standardized industry specifications supporting adoption of 100% SAF, which does not require blending with conventional jet fuel, it said.
The 100% SAF test flight is expected to demonstrate how widebody commercial aircraft using jet fuel made from alternative sources can lower lifecycle CO2 emissions compared to petroleum-based fuels with no operational issues, it said.
Emirates will work closely with regulators to secure approvals for experimental type certification, and will also coordinate with airframe, auxiliary power unit and original equipment manufacturers on pre- and post-flight requirements, in addition to closely working with SAF suppliers on procurement and delivery logistics, it said.
In addition to customer support, GE Aviation will complete necessary technical reviews to confirm the engines will meet performance specifications and provide any pre- and post-flight directions as needed, it said.
Emirates has long been a supporter of industry and government efforts to encourage the development of the SAF industry, and regularly participates in initiatives to contribute to SAF deployment. Its first flight powered by SAF was in 2017, operating from the Chicago O'Hare airport.
Emirates received its first A380 powered by SAF in December 2020 and lifted 32 mt of SAF for its flights from Stockholm earlier that year, with the support of Swedavia's Biofuel Incentive Program.
Flights from Oslo have also begun operating on SAF under the Norwegian government SAF mandate policy.
The airline is also a member of the Clean Skies for Tomorrow coalition, established by the World Economic Forum, which is supporting a transition to SAF as part of a pathway towards carbon-neutral flying.
Meanwhile, GE Aviation has been actively involved in assessing and qualifying SAF since 2007 and works closely with producers, regulators and operators to help ensure that SAF can be widely adopted for use in aviation, the statement said.
All GE Aviation engines can operate with approved SAF, which is made from plant oils, algae, greases, fats, waste streams, alcohols, sugars, captured CO2, and other alternative feedstock sources. By starting with alternative feedstocks instead of fossil fuels, CO2 emissions can be reduced during production, it added.
Aviation's net-zero goal
The International Air Transport Association, or IATA, welcomed the commitments towards strengthening climate action made at COP26, and called on the global efforts to decarbonize aviation to be supported with practical, effective government policies.
"The pledges made at COP26 show that many governments understand the key to rapid progress is to incentivize technological change and fund innovative solutions," Willie Walsh, IATA's director general, said in a statement on Nov. 12.
"This is particularly true of sustainable aviation fuels, which will play a major role in addressing aviation's environmental impact—they need the right incentives from governments to ramp-up production," Walsh added.
A notable outcome from COP26 was the move by 23 nations to sign the International Aviation Climate Ambition Declaration. Ensuring the maximum effectiveness of the Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation, and the development and deployment of SAF are key aims of the Declaration.
The Declaration recognizes the need for aviation to "grow sustainably" and reiterates ICAO's role to implement short, medium and long-term climate goals for the industry, IATA said.