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Could Airlines Soon Be Fueled By Biofuels?

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Efforts to reduce emissions could support soybean demand

The race to reduce airplane emissions is gaining traction. The Biden administration has set a goal for the U.S. to produce and use billions of gallons of sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) to drop aviation emissions 20% by 2030 when compared to business as usual.

The transportation sector is the largest carbon-emitting sector, says Valerie Sarisky-Reed, acting director of the Bioenergy Technologies Office. Plus, aviation is a difficult- to-electrify mode of transportation.

“Aviation is the clearest opportunity for biofuels to have impact,” she says. “We’re seeing unprecedented interest in finding alternatives to fossil-based fuels, which is helping drive demand for these fuels.”


Southwest Airlines, Delta, JetBlue and United have all made short- and long-term commitments to

bio-based fuels. The six pathways that have been approved to make SAF include wood residue, animal fats, algae, cooking oil, vegetable oil, sugars, alcohol, ethanol or greases.

The chemical and physical characteristics of SAF are almost identical to those of the conventional fuels, Sarisky-Reed says.

The continued airline pledges for SAF, and the connected renewable diesel, are fueling the argument U.S. soybeans could soon see increased domestic demand, says Peter Meyer, head of grain and oilseed analytics, S&P Global Platts.

Currently, Meyer says only a few plants in the U.S. are producing SAF, but several are in the development stage. Many include partnerships with some of the largest energy companies in the world.

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