Biden administration takes action to expand SAF production, use

By Erin Voegele | September 09, 2021

President Biden on Sept. 9 announced his administration is taking action to increase the production of sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) to at least 3 billion gallons per year and reduce aviation emission by 20 percent by 2030. As part of that effort, the U.S. Department of Energy announced $64.7 million in funding for biofuels.

Information released by the White House indicates the new actions build upon the SAF tax credit proposed as part of the administration’s Build Back Better Agenda. That credit would require at least a 50 percent reduction in lifecycle greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and would offer increased incentives for greater reductions.

Key federal actions announced by Biden include a new Sustainable Aviation Fuel Grand Challenge to increase the production of SAF to at least 3 billion gallons per year by 2030, with a goal to produce enough SAF to meet 100 percent of aviation demand by 2050; $4.3 billion in new and ongoing funding opportunities support SAF projects and fuel producers; an increase in research and development activities to demonstrate new technologies that can achieve at least a 30 percent improvement in aircraft fuel efficiency; efforts to improve air traffic and airport efficiency to reduce fuel use, eliminate lead exposure, and ensure cleaner air in and around airports; and the demonstration of U.S. leadership both internationally and through the federal example.

The Biden administration also plans to release an aviation climate action plan in the coming months that will set forth a comprehensive plan for aviation.

As part of the SAF initiative, the DOE awarded $64.7 million to 22 projects focused on the production of cost-effective, low-carbon biofuels for heavy-duty forms of transportation, such as aviation and shipping. Awardees include Alder Energy, Gas Technology Institute, Global Algae Innovations, Lanzatech, MicroBio Engineering Inc., Texas A&M Agrilife Research/Texas A&M University, University of Maryland: College Park, D3Max LLC, SkyNRG Americas Inc., T2C-Energy, AVAPCO, National Renewable Energy Laboratory, Quasar Energy Group, Archer Daniels Midland, Lignolix, RAPID Manufacturing Institute, Oregon State University, University of Alabama, University of Virginia, Washington University – St. Louis, and Summit Utilities.

The DOE Loan Program Office is also offering up to $3 billion in loan guarantees. Commercial-scale SAF projects that utilize innovative technology and avoid, reduce or sequester GHG emissions and meet other program requirements may be eligible for loan guarantees under LPO’s Title 17 Innovative Energy Loan Guarantee Program.

Subject to appropriations, DOE funding will also be used to certify the use of up to four additional SAF pathways already approved in the commercial market, as well as additional SAF pathways in the ASTM approval pipeline for warfighters.

Other federal agencies will also aid in reaching the administration’s SAF goals. According to the White House, the USDA will support U.S. farmers with climate-smart agriculture practices and research, including biomass feedstock genetic development, sustainable crop and forest management at scale, and post-harvest supply chain logistics. The USDA will also support fuel producers with carbon modeling components of aviation biofuel feedstocks.

The U.S. EPA and DOE will collaborate to identify data collection needs, assess technical information and take other steps to expedite the regulatory approval process to support newly developed fuels and feedstocks that may be viable for inclusion as able to generate renewable identification numbers (RINs) under the Renewable Fuel Standard.

The Federal Aviation Administration will make 14 grant awards with more than $3.6 million in fiscal year (FY) 2021 funds to the Aviation Sustainability CENTer (ASCENT) university center of excellence. That funding will support the SAF approval clearing house in conducting evaluation testing to ensure that new fuels are safe for use.

As part of the administration’s announcement, several airlines announced SAF commitments, including United Airlines, Delta Airlines, American Airlines, Alaska Airlines, Southwest Airlines, and JetBlue. Cargo airlines also made commitments, including FedEx, Atlas Air, Amazon AIR, DHL Express, and UPS.

The White House estimates that approximately 4.5 million gallons per year of SAF is currently produced in the U.S. A variety of SAF producers have already announced plans to expand SAF production in the near-term, including LanzaJet, World Energy, Gevo, Fulcrum, Velocys, BP, Virent, Honeywell, Shell, Neste, Marquis, Green Plains Inc., ADM, Prometheus, Aemetis and members of the Renewable Fuels Association and Growth Energy, according to the White House.

The RFA was among the organizations that participated a White House roundtable discussion on SAF. “The ethanol industry sees tremendous promise and potential in the emerging market for sustainable aviation fuels, and RFA supports the goals announced today by President Biden’s administration,” said Geoff Cooper, president and CEO of the RFA. “Ethanol has a decades-long proven track record for reducing greenhouse gas emissions from motor vehicles, and we are confident that ethanol will play a central role in cleaning up aviation fuels as well. Today’s average corn ethanol already cuts GHG emissions in half compared to petroleum, and some readily available sources of ethanol in the market have been certified by the California Air Resources Board as providing a 70-80 percent GHG reduction. With the right policy signals and support, ethanol-to-jet technologies can quickly scale up to meet the future SAF needs of the aviation sector. RFA was honored to participate in today’s roundtable, and we look forward to working with the Biden administration, major airlines, SAF technology innovators, and other stakeholders to decarbonize the aviation fuels sector.”

Growth Energy also participated in the round table discussion. “We are energized by the potential opportunity to expand our role in reducing our nation’s carbon emissions,” said Emily Skor, CEO of Growth Energy. “With the appropriate investment in critical research and development and the right policy environment, we know our industry can continue to help decarbonize our transportation sector—from passenger vehicles to our aircraft fleet. Importantly, to deliver game-changing solutions, we must have a healthy and thriving corn ethanol industry to make the long-term investments in research and development.

“To meet this challenge, it important that new tax incentives are guided by technology-neutral life-cycle assessments by scientists who understand the U.S. biofuel sector – in this case, those at the U.S. Department of Energy,” Skor added. “U.S. tax credits must reflect U.S.-based modeling, and we will continue to press for policy that reflects the most up-to-date science available.”

Additional information is available on the White House website