Aug 25, 2022

Decarbonizing Air Travel: Exponentially Scaling Sustainable Aviation Fuel Production in the Next Decade

SAF is key to decarbonizing aviation. Lessons learned from exponential growth in renewable energy industries provide ample evidence that SAF production can scale to meet aviation needs, if public and private initiatives are aligned. Boom’s Dr. Akshay Ashok and Ben Murphy show how to get it done.

Air travel connects the world, linking people and providing economic, social, and environmental benefits. The aviation industry recognizes that it must continue to deliver these benefits while reducing environmental impacts, and the sector has committed to net zero carbon emissions by 2050 or earlier.

Widespread deployment of sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) is the most critical step to decarbonizing aviation, even with anticipated improvements in aircraft fuel efficiency and operations. To help the aviation sector achieve net zero by 2050, the SAF industry must scale well before then. Industry and governments alike must act now to ensure adequate SAF for the future of aviation.

A rapid scaling of SAF production to fully satisfy demand is possible in the 2035-2040 timeframe by aligning public and private initiatives. To understand how this growth  can be achieved, Boom Supersonic’s Dr. Akshay Ashok (Sustainability and Regulatory Specialist) and Ben Murphy (VP, Sustainability) studied patterns across other renewable energy industries. They identified key drivers that contributed to the success of exponential growth, and applied these proven trajectories to the SAF industry. Their findings, published in the white paper “Scaling Sustainable Aviation Fuel Production,” show how the same key drivers can be applied to the SAF industry to enable its exponential growth.

Other renewable energy sectors – solar and wind electricity generation, battery storage, and renewable ground transportation fuels – saw exponential growth of between 30% to 55% per year during their fastest 10-year growth periods. These industries developed quickly thanks to a positive feedback loop between economies of scale and accelerated learning curves. As technologies are deployed, costs and efficiencies are improved from experiential learning and innovation, spurring further technology adoption.

The figure below illustrates potential trajectories of SAF production should it follow the growth rates seen in other renewable technologies. If SAF scales at the rates seen in solar and wind, the volume of SAF could satisfy international jet fuel demand in the 2035-2045 timeframe. Based on the announcements of new SAF production facilities that have been made to date, SAF production is poised to exceed the growth rate seen in the solar industry.

Four common drivers enabled these industries to expand rapidly.

  • Early government buy-in and incentives helped create a market while technologies were nascent and prices were high (e.g., government purchases of solar panels for satellites in the 1960s, the U.S. Investment Tax Credit (ITC), and residential solar rebates).
  • Sustained investment into research and development (R&D) fostered cost reduction through innovation.
  • And consistent legislative policies provided clear signals to producers to support capital investments.

The SAF industry displays all hallmarks of the early-stage exponential growth patterns observed in other renewable energy industries. Industry, governments, and researchers have already taken impactful initial steps to support the growth of the industry – investments into pilot SAF facilities; government incentives such as the recent U.S. SAF Blenders Tax Credit; the establishment of R&D programmes like the SAF Grand Challenge and ReFuelEU initiative; and SAF purchase agreements from end users. Governments and industry must continue to work together through the following channels to achieve exponential growth:

Based on the track record of exponential growth in other renewable energy sectors, there is ample evidence to conclude that SAF production can rapidly scale to meet global aviation needs in the timeframe necessary, as long as targeted industry and government actions are taken now.

At Boom Supersonic, we’re committed to making the world more accessible with our supersonic airliner, Overture — optimized for speed, safety, and sustainability. It’s designed to operate on 100% SAF while flying at twice the speed of today’s fastest passenger jets. We are proud to partner with sustainability-minded airlines and organizations like the Sustainable Aviation Buyers Alliance (SABA), which works to make SAF more available to customers. Such actions by industry and government are crucial to scaling SAF and enabling the aviation industry to achieve its net-zero carbon goals, and will allow aviation to continue to play its vital role in the global economy while protecting the climate.

Boom Supersonic plans to achieve net zero carbon by 2025, building on the significant progress outlined in our 2021 Environmental Sustainability Report. Notably, Boom achieved carbon neutrality through reduction initiatives and high-quality carbon credits in 2021.

Overture fleets will run at Mach 1.7 on up to 100% SAF, balancing speed, safety, and sustainability. A key part of Boom’s sustainability strategy focuses on scaling SAF, paving the way for net zero Overture operations and aiming to make sustainable aviation fuels the industry standard.

Read the full white paper here.

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