American businessman watching plane in sky

Adopting sustainable aviation fuel technology: trends and insights

Accelerating the adoption of sustainable aviation fuel will depend on investments, production capacity, and government mandate.

In brief
  • Public sector and the aviation industry are positioning themselves to adopt more sustainable practices, including the use of green jet fuel technology.
  • The use of sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) is on the rise with increased SAF adoption presenting market opportunities across the value chain.
  • SAF market stakeholders must consider geopolitics, economics, and commercial viability as they progress in their adoption roadmap.

Download the full whitepaper: Sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) on the rise

Sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) has been on a slow rise to replace conventional jet fuel and is widely accepted as the most promising path to achieve net zero air travel in the short to medium term. From governments to airlines, aggressive SAF goals have been implemented, but actions and policies required to meet these goals fall short. An unpredictable geopolitical and economic environment over the next five years further adds to the complexity of widespread SAF adoption. SAF adoption and capacity will likely be impacted as countries shift toward establishing bloc alliances and focus on developing policies that strengthen technologies related to energy independence and national security. It is critical to understand how different geopolitical scenarios shape the future of SAF in order to participate in the SAF economy effectively and capitalize on the promising opportunity it presents.


How SAF could be the key to greener skies


Recent advancements in green technology for the aviation sector are dramatically shifting sentiment away from the often-held, but false, view that environmental sustainability and commercial air travel are conflicting concepts.


SAF has the potential to deliver the performance of petroleum-based jet fuel, with up to a 100% reduction in net CO2, giving airlines better footing for decoupling greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) from air travel. SAF could also be a dynamic investment opportunity for those looking for new ways to tap into the sustainability market.


The EY SAF Survey 2022 explored SAF adoption trends and a five-year market outlook. The survey included responses from industry practitioners, investors, travel industry partners and service providers. Seventy-six percent of the survey respondents consider the SAF industry to be in the emerging phase. Being in the emerging phase means there are new SAF producers entering the market rapidly to test new technology and gain market share.

Organizations and governments working to promote sustainable air travel see SAF as having the most impact in achieving net zero carbon emission by 2050, while other technologies are being explored. Electric and hydrogen technologies are often presented as alternatives to conventional jet fuel along with SAF, but those technologies are relatively less mature, require major infrastructure changes for both aircraft and airport logistics, and, in the case of electric, are unlikely to have sufficient range for long-haul commercial flights by 2050.

The technology of SAF

As sustainability and technology continue to become intertwined with the acceleration of decarbonization efforts, those working toward bringing SAF into everyday use have an opportunity to lead the transformation of the aviation industry. Work continues to accelerate to develop new feedstocks and new methods of making SAF a reality. Nine SAF technologies have received American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) approval, meaning that they can be used for commercial flight. In our report, we included four SAF technologies that are most likely to scale and attract industry attention:

Policy can also fuel adoption

A strong government push, in terms of mandates and incentives, is expected to have a significant impact on SAF production and adoption. Based on our survey, 50% of respondents believe that increased policy incentives would be the highest impact driver of adoption, while 35% believe that imposing tax burdens on traditional energy producers and users would have the highest impact. Many countries are in the initial stages of framing policies for SAF adoption, with the US leading the way with tangible policies and goals to promote SAF production. Even though 135 member countries have submitted their state action plans to reduce aviation-related carbon emissions to the ICAO to support its long-term aspirational goal of net zero emissions by 2050, a majority of them lack targeted policies and tangible incentives for a widespread SAF adoption.

Geopolitical Framework:

In the recent years, geopolitics has shifted dramatically, and the outlook for the global operating environment is increasingly unclear. Global scenario analysis reveals diverging paths for geopolitics, economic policies and company strategies. The trajectory of geopolitics will shape these trends and the global business environment across aerospace and defense (A&D), and SAF in the next five years is uncertain.

We highlight four geopolitical scenarios, the economic outcome and their impact on SAF adoption:

Key Takeaway and Call to Action

SAF is going to continue evolving as a key part of the aerospace industry regardless of which scenario plays out over the next five years. Depending on where you sit and how you think the global environment will change in the coming years, there is a way to get involved in the development and adoption of SAF. The commercial aerospace industry is committed to sustainability, and SAF is a core part of that solution in both the near and long term. It is time to start thinking about what you can do to be a part of this change, and how you can capitalize on the promising opportunity SAF presents. Regardless of the geopolitical scenarios, for SAF to become a viable path to achieve net zero aviation, the following actions will be critical in the near term:

  1. A push for more tangible grants and policies in the US, UK and EU. The UK and EU are significantly behind in introducing meaningful incentives to accelerate SAF production and help the industry reach price parity with conventional jet fuel. 
  2. Energy producers and investors should continue to pursue less feedstock-dependent technologies, such as PtL, to de-risk from political challenges and supply chain issues.
  3. Opportunities exist for both specialized and diversified energy producers to push forward with more mature technologies and allocate capital to build capacity to capture increasing demand from the airline industry. 
  4. As specialized energy producers continue to mature technology and operations, the diversified players looking to enter the market should pursue partnerships and acquisitions to add to their alternative energy portfolios.
  5. Corporations and airlines’ partnerships will be important to keep Environmental, social and governance (ESG) goals front and center by increasing book-and-claim activity and offsetting the carbon footprint of corporate travel.


Additional contributors to this article include Erika Solem-Ruckert and Haider Ali.


The case for SAF adoption is still ever-changing, and a host of organizations and stakeholders are keeping a close watch on regulatory, business, and political scenarios that may unfold in the mid- to long-term. ESG goals will be a force that will change the business landscape of aerospace and defense. SAF production and usage will be integral in attaining those sustainability goals, but success in this front will depend on how well organizations navigate through challenges around technology, production, and regional policies.

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