Royal Dutch Shell has announced that it intends to produce 2 million tonnes of sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) by 2025, the largest and most aggressive target among the oil majors to date.

“This is a number that is ten times the amount of SAF produced annually today in the entire world, so it is clearly a step up,” Anna Mascolo, president, global aviation at Shell, told FlightGlobal. In 2020, the amount of SAF produced was some 190,000 tonnes, representing just 0.1% of global aviation jet fuel demand.

Shell Rotterdam plant

Source: Shell Aviation

“This will make us a global leader in SAF production,” says Mascolo. Shell believes that SAF has a key role to play in decarbonising air travel. Compared with conventional jet fuel derived from fossil fuels, when used neat SAF has the potential to cut life-cycle emissions from aviation by up to 80%. It can be used immediately as a drop-in fuel, blended with conventional jet fuel, without the need for a fundamental change in infrastructure or aircraft design.

Shell says that it is the first of the oil giants – or Integrated Oil Companies – to announce a SAF production target. In addition to the 2025 target, it also aims to have at least 10% of its global aviation fuel sales as SAF by 2030.

The company cannot today specify exactly where the 2 million tonnes will come from, but Mascolo says Shell is “confident we can deliver on the ambition”.

She says the company is “ready with our asset transformation plan”, which see refineries that make oil-based fuels being converting to produce sustainable fuels. For example, on 16 September, Shell announced it is building an 820,000 tonnes-a-year biofuels plant in Rotterdam, producing SAF and renewable diesel made from waste.

As part of its Powering Progress strategy, Shell says it will transform its refineries (it had 14 in October 2020) into five energy and chemicals parks. Shell aims to reduce the production of traditional fuels by 55% by 2030 and provide more low-carbon fuels such as biofuels for road transport and aviation, and hydrogen. The Energy and Chemicals Park Rotterdam is the second park to be announced, following the launch in July of the Energy and Chemicals Park Rheinland, in Germany.

The Rotterdam biofuels facility is expected to start production in 2024. It will produce low-carbon fuels such as renewable diesel from waste in the form of used cooking oil, waste animal fat and other industrial and agricultural residual products, using advanced technology developed by Shell.

The company says SAF could make up over half of the output of the Rotterdam plant, depending on customer demand. Shell has several other announced SAF production ventures and more in the pipeline. 

Shell will seek to boost SAF production even more if the industry’s adoption of SAF speeds up. “If customers are going to step up, I am sure we can find a way to accelerate,” says Mascolo.

This view chimes with that voiced in Decarbonising Aviation: Cleared for Take-off, a joint report by Shell and Deloitte, that says that the current global industry targets are not ambitious enough, and that the aviation sector should aim to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050. “More ambitious efforts are required, and investments must start sooner if SAF is to be adopted at scale within 15 years,” states the report.

Mascolo says that Shell’s SAF production target is separate to the SAF that it buys from others. It already sources SAF from suppliers such as World Energy and Red Rocks, and it is “absolutely” looking for more SAF offtakes from third parties. “Our role is quite critical because we have access to airports, infrastructure and customers. Our role is to bring both sides together,” she says.