The good, bad and the ugly of SAF mandates
Air France-KLM has introduced a 1% sustainable aviation fuels (SAF) mandate on all flights departing from France. With Air France’s decision to add a surcharge fee for passengers for SAF, SAF mandates have come under the spotlight. So how should mandates work to actually be useful?
Since 10 January 2022, all KLM flights departing from Amsterdam Schiphol have been operating on a minimum of 0.5% of sustainable aviation fuel (SAF). Its French partner carrier, Air France, will fly 1% SAF on all flights departing from France. A surcharge fee, ranging between €1 and €12 depending on the flight distance and cabin class, will apply on ticket prices.
Air France-KLM’s announcement comes in response to the French government introducing a 1% SAF mandate on all flights departing from the country. It is an indication that the French government is taking SAF seriously and should inspire its European counterparts to support ambitious ReFuelEU mandates.
“Mandating the use of SAF in the aviation sector is the right approach to ensure the deployment of these fuels. By applying a ticket surcharge, Air France is asking for those who can afford to fly to pay for their emissions. However, experience to date has shown that SAF mandates, when applied wrongly, can have disastrous consequences, resulting in the use of fuels which are worse than the fossil fuels they seek to replace,” explains Matteo Mirolo, aviation policy officer at T&E.
In a recent study, T&E analysed fuel mandates in seven European countries, including France. With countries rated from green to red, France was given an orange light.
The exclusion of crop-based biofuels in the French SAF mandate is a step in the right direction. However, the fact that sugar molasses can count in the target is a cause for concern. Molasses are not considered advanced biofuels as they are used in the food industry. If used for biofuels, they will be diverted away from their original purpose in the food sector.
The French mandate has a strong emphasis on the use of advanced biofuels. Advanced biofuels, if done correctly and based on true wastes and residues, can play a role in the decarbonisation of aviation. However, even relying on advanced biofuels can result in the use of unsustainable feedstocks. Advanced biofuels are limited in availability and many types can have negative environmental and climate impacts. But, with a robust impact assessment of the sustainable availability of the feedstocks, and by using materials that aren’t risky (i.e. those that are really wastes and/or residues), advanced biofuels can play their part in decarbonising aviation.
Mandates should prioritise the deployment of renewable e-fuels. These are fuels produced from additional renewable electricity and captured CO2, meaning they are near zero in their lifecycle emissions .
“SAF mandates are an essential tool, but hard to get right. They must exclude all crop-based biofuels, and should only include advanced biofuels that meet strict sustainability criteria. We also need sub-targets for e-kerosene, which is the only fuel that can substantially reduce aviation’s climate impact. France set itself on the right path when it introduced a SAF mandate, but they still have a way to go before the mandate can really be considered sustainable,” concludes Matteo Mirolo.
SAF mandates are set to play an increasingly important role in Europe, in light of the European Commission’s ReFuelEU proposal. The proposal introduces an obligation on jet fuel suppliers to blend a growing share of SAFs into fuel provided at major airports in the EU. That obligation starts in 2025 at 2% and grows to 5% in 2030 and further beyond that. Air France-KLM’s announcement shows that ReFuelEU mandates can successfully be implemented and should strive to be as ambitious as possible.
 There are different types of biofuels on the market: first generation (or conventional) biofuels are produced from crops grown on agricultural land whereas second generation (or advanced) biofuels are produced from wastes, residues or novel feedstocks such as algae.