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Airbus tests sustainable aviation fuels

While waiting for the hydrogen plane, manufacturers and airlines are looking to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. Sustainable aviation fuel could be an alternative.

Credit: Airbus
Credit: Airbus

Airbus performed this week the first flight of an A350 flying only on sustainable fuel (SAF, for “sustainable aviation fuel”). A test carried out with the help of Rolls-Royce, which supplies the engines, the German aerospace agency DLR as well as Neste, which produces the fuel in question.

Reduce CO2 emissions

For the manufacturer and its partners, this involves measuring SAF emissions in flight, using a DLR Falcon which will follow the aircraft during its flights. Currently, legislation allows planes to fly on 50% SAF fuel. The objective being to reduce CO2 emissions as much as possible, the study aims to better understand the impact of this type of fuel produced from recycled oils, sugar, wood residues or even oilseeds.

If it turns out that flying with 100% SAF can significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions, then it is possible that the 50% ceiling set out in the regulations will jump. The stakes are high for the entire aviation sector, which is facing two major crises: the first is of course to regain the level of activity before the pandemic.

The second crisis is existential: planes must necessarily reduce the pollution inherent in the use of fossil fuels. Hydrogen is very promising in this area, but the commissioning of the first Airbus aircraft is not expected before 2035. This is why SAF fuels represent an interesting alternative to bridge the gap while waiting for hydrogen.

The European aircraft manufacturer is not the only one to work on SAF. Boeing, the American rival, carried out the test flight of a 777 freighter that used only sustainable fuel in 2018. The airline industry has embarked on the bet of reducing its emissions by half (compared to their 2005 level) by 2050.

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