The aviation industry has an ambitious goal. The target is to reach net-zero CO2 emissions by 2050 through a mix of revolutionary aircraft and propulsion technologies, alternative fuels and operational improvements.
In a matching ambition to be a net-zero company by 2050, GE Aviation is helping lead the industry to reduce CO2 emissions from flight.
The biggest lever to pull is Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF), a lower carbon alternative jet fuel. GE Aviation has been actively involved in assessing and qualifying SAF since 2007 and works closely with producers, regulators and operators to help ensure SAF can be widely adopted for use.
All GE engines can operate today and in the future on approved SAF, which can be made from plant-based material, fats, oils and greases, alcohols, waste streams, captured CO2, and other alternative feedstocks. SAF is the same composition as the jet fuel most commonly used today. The key difference is that instead of being made from crude oil, SAF is made from more renewable sources that capture carbon from the atmosphere and other various sources. The use of alternative feedstocks and processes reduces lifecycle CO2 emissions during production, processing and distribution compared to fossil-based fuels.
Additionally, all SAF approved today is drop-in, able to replace conventional jet fuel, requiring no changes to aircraft equipment and fueling infrastructure to use it.
However, SAF production is now less than 1% of global jet fuel demand and is more expensive than conventional jet fuel. More economic development incentives are needed worldwide to boost SAF supply, which is why GE Aviation is taking action. By joining organizations like The Roundtable on Sustainable Biomaterials, GE is collaborating on standards-setting and policy discussions.
New aviation technologies in development don’t replace the need for SAF. GE Aviation technology demonstration programs for hybrid electric and open fan engine designs are fully compatible with SAF. Hydrogen fuel, which doesn’t emit CO2 during combustion, will need supporting markets and infrastructure to meet jet fuel demand like SAF.
While there is no single solution to reach net-zero, SAF is critical because it works to reduce CO2 emissions now. GE Aviation is developing a series of technologies to make engines more fuel efficient and fuel flexible with hybrid electric, open fan and hydrogen technologies projected to enter service in the mid-2030s. Meanwhile, SAF is here. SAF could reduce more CO2 emissions with greater use, now, with the right market incentives that encourage investment in production and bring costs down.