Oil that Cooked your Fries is Now Fueling your Flight

The world’s biggest maker of renewable diesel says it’s creating a new market for low-carbon jet fuel as passengers slowly return to the skies.

Neste Oyj is betting that sustainable aviation fuel, SAF, will appeal to businesses eager to cut carbon emissions. The company also expects the fuel’s higher price won’t be an obstacle, as post-pandemic air travel resumes with a more climate-conscious mindset. The company's SAF, over its life cycle, reduces greenhouse gas emissions by up to 80 percent compared to fossil jet fuel. Therefore, Neste argues, their fuel provides an immediate solution for reducing the direct carbon emissions of flying.

“People will start flying again, but then they want to fly in a more sustainable way,” Chief Executive Officer Peter Vanacker said in an interview. “Just like we did with renewable diesel, we are creating this market.”

The Finnish company is investing about $230 million to equip its Rotterdam renewables refinery to make more sustainable jet fuel. Combined with an expansion at its Singapore facility, Neste will be able to make 1.5 million tons of SAF a year by the end of 2023, up from just 100,000 tons now. That compares with 300 million tons of fossil fuels used in aviation each year pre-pandemic.

Biofuels are just one new technology carriers are exploring to cut emissions. Finland’s national carrier Finnair Oyj recently said it could buy as many as 20 electric planes for use on short-haul routes starting around the middle of the decade. It’s also looking into synthetic renewable fuels. The biggest environmental impact will come from reducing fuel use by optimizing routes, plane weight and pilot training, as well as upgrading to a more fuel-efficient fleet.