Refuel EU: focus on a major European agreement for Sustainable Aviation Fuels
This decision represents a milestone in efforts to reduce carbon emissions in the air transport sector. After two years’ of negotiations, the European Parliament has adopted* the “ReFuel EU Aviation” legislation that will define the framework for sustainable fuels and encourages their use in the civil aviation industry. As a leading player in the aeronautical industry, Safran was involved in the development of this ambitious project. Review of the challenges related to “ReFuel EU” and the future for sustainable fuels in Europe with Nicolas Jeuland, Group Emeritus Expert in sustainable fuels, and Julien Rossi, Head of Safran European Union Representation Office.
How does this legislation represent significant progress towards the decarbonization of the air transport sector?
Nicolas Jeuland: The European Union is sending a strong message with “ReFuel EU Aviation”. The adoption of this legislation marks the start of a new chapter in terms of public policies on sustainable fuels (SAF*) in Europe and worldwide. It results from the ambition to define a regulatory framework to encourage the production and use of SAF to replace kerosene in the long term. This essential element of the European Green Deal (“Fit for 55”) represents a step towards the overall target set by the European Union, i.e., a 55% reduction in net greenhouse gas emissions by 2030, compared with 1990.
With “ReFuel EU,” fuel suppliers will now be required to provide a minimal amount of SAF in European airports. In other words, the use of such fuels will become mandatory rather than voluntary. Not only does this enable the implementation of a coherent decarbonization strategy at the scale of the EU, it also prevents the risks of unfair competition by leveling the playing field for all European suppliers. Above all, it sends a clear message to investors and producers concerning the creation of a market for European SAF. They can now be sure of a certain level of demand!
The percentage to be incorporated will gradually increase every 5 years: at least 2% in 2025, 6% in 2030, to reach 70% by 2050. “ReFuel EU” thus testifies to a genuine ambition to accelerate the development of the SAF industry to face the challenges of climate deregulation.
What are the main obstacles to be overcome to facilitate the development of the SAF industry in Europe?
N. Jeuland: Today, the main obstacle to the development of SAF is their cost, which is an average four to six times higher than that of traditional kerosene. There is also not enough supply to meet the needs of the aeronautical and marine industries. In spite of these obstacles, the European Commission has chosen SAF as part of its efforts to resolve the climate crisis. These fuels actually represent the quickest option to put in place to reduce the carbon emissions of air transport. From a technological and logistics point of view, no major changes are required: SAF can be used directly in today’s aircraft. This is why legislation like “ReFuel EU” is so important: its main goal is to lay the groundwork for a clear European policy in this area.
There are also other challenges to be faced in terms of business model and competition for the suppliers and airlines. How can we encourage the development of SAF, while ensuring that these players are not at a disadvantage compared with foreign competitors, particularly for long-haul flights? Although there are many European Union grands to help reduce excess costs (investment grants, research grants, etc.), one of the challenges of the future will be to set up specific economic protection mechanisms to compensate for potential losses.
What is Safran’s role in the implementation of this legislation?
Julien Rossi: True to its commitment, Safran is contributing its expertise and know-how to help achieve the objectives defined by “ReFuel EU.” As well as participating in the initial project, the Group was asked in 2022 to head the “aviation” branch of the “Renewable and Low Carbon Fuels” alliance (RLCF). Launched by the European Commission, in response to a proposal from Safran in particular, this alliance plays a strategic role in the implementation of the “ReFuel EU” measures.
N. Jeuland: As an equipment manufacturer, the main challenges for Safran in the development of SAF are both technological and commercial. Firstly, in terms of technology, the Group must be able to guarantee the compatibility of SAF while increasing the incorporation threshold –currently at 50%– to satisfy the rise in demand. Secondly, on the commercial side, the Group will act as a facilitator in discussions between the various members of the RLCF alliance, whether they are fuel producers or financial institutions, for example.
J. Rossi: “ReFuel EU” is not meant to be a final solution, but an initial action to lay the foundations for a European policy on SAF. It is an essential step towards the decarbonization of the air transport sector, and must be followed by other, increasingly ambitious measures. Safran is ready to help and contribute to these changes.
*The Council of the European Union, for its part, should provide its formal approval within a few days.
**SAF: Sustainable Aviation Fuels.
“ReFuel EU Aviation” also concerns synthetic fields (also called e-fuels). The text stipulates that the fuels provided in European airports must contain at least 1.2% by 2030.
Reminder: e-fuels are made from hydrogen by electrolyzing water with low carbon electricity and CO2 captured from the atmosphere or from industrial fumes.