News that Emirates has struck a major agreement with Neste for the supply of sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) and that Archer Aviation aims to introduce electric air taxis to Abu Dhabi in 2026, underlines the extent to which the UAE is ramping up its clean aviation activities.
The timing of these announcements is unlikely to be accidental.
Dubai will next month host two major global events at which sustainable aviation will be a major point of discussion. In mid-November the aerospace industry comes to town for the biennial Dubai air show. No sooner does that end, than the UN’s flagship COP28 Climate Change Summit in the same emirate begins.
The events come as both the wider aerospace industry and the UAE have work to do to convince their critics that they are decarbonising fast enough.
Some eyebrows were raised in response to the decison for the UAE, a major oil producer, to host the world’s premier conference on the climate crisis, to which fossil fuel emissions are a major contributor.
While the UAE is actively diversifying into ‘non-oil’ sectors, including renewable energy, sceptics question whether the UAE’s expansion into SAF and other renewables such as hydrogen is not a shift away from fossil fuels, but an opportunistic broadening of its energy product base.
What is clear from the raft of announcements and initaitives over the past year, is that the UAE plans to be a big player in this area, particularly in SAF. Furthermore it has the funds, infrastructure and skills to do so.
It has been ramping up its activity and a detailed strategy has been announced for local production of SAF. The UAE National SAF Roadmap flags annual output of 700 million litres by 2030, from up to five facilities.
Using its ample solar exposure to generate renewable electricity, the UAE plans to create green hydrogen needed for power-to-liquid and waste-to-fuel programmes.
Also progressing is a long-running project in Abu Dhabi to develop SAF from saltwater-tolerant plants.
Global collaboration has flourished, including new SAF partnerships between the Abu Dhabi Renewable Energy Company, Masdar, and both Airbus and Boeing.
The Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (ADNOC) has just secured International Sustainability Carbon Certification (ISCC), enabling it to produce and supply SAF.
And together with private equity group Carlyle, the Abu Dhabi government’s Mubadala investment arm owns the Spanish oil and gas company CEPSA, which, by 2030, aims to produce 800,000 tons of SAF each year.
Dubai-based Emirates – whose president Tim Clark has questioned the ability of the airline industry to achieve net zero emissions by 2050 – has notably ramped up its green activity.
In January, with Boeing and GE Aviation, it test-flew a Boeing 777 with one engine 100% fuelled by SAF, and in May announced a $200 million fund to support innovation in renewable fuels and technologies. Last month it announced a 300,000 gal, 10-year commitment to buy SAF from Shell, now followed by plans to take a 3,000,000 gal of blended SAF across 2024-25 from Neste.
The UAE SAF Roadmap says that by 2030, up to half of the nation’s production of the fuel could be absorbed just in the EU, generating a cumulative $1.7 billion in export revenue.
“Net-zero, for us, is about new industries, new skills and new jobs,” explains Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber, UAE special envoy for climate change, in comments within the SAF report. “For us, the business of tackling climate change is simply good business.”
Selling its SAF to the world should not be a problem, given the global shortage of the fuel.
Lack of initiatives in other regions were again highlighted earlier this month by LATAM Airlines Group chief executive Roberto Alvo during a panel debate at the IATA World Sustainability Symposium in Madrid, who noted with SAF production essentially non-existent, the region was being left “one step behind”.
Additional reporting Graham Dunn