Air France-KLM: first long-haul flight on SAF biofuel
On Tuesday, an Airbus A350 from Air France-KLM made its first long-distance flight from Paris to Montreal (Canada) on SAF biofuel, made from waste like cooking oil and residue. The Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF) in a 16% blend with conventional aviation kerosine avoided 20 tons of CO2 or 15% less on this flight.
The SAF is produced by French energy giant Total in its biofuel refineries of La Mède in the south of France and the Oudalle factory near Le Havre. But Total boss Patrick Pouyanné warned at the event that “one should not dream that this ecological energy transition will come at the same price”. Expect at least $5 extra per ticket in France as soon as 2022.
France forerunner in EU
France is one of the forerunners in the world, enforcing airlines to use at least 1% of SAF in all flights originating in France, ahead of the European ambition scheduled to gradually ramp up to 2% by 2025 and 5% by 2030, as part of the European Green Deal. Norway was the first to start enforcing 0,5% of biofuels for flights originating from the country in 2020.
And this will come at a cost for the airlines. One percent of SAF accounts for an extra cost of 100 million euros, Pouyanné says. This will be taken into account for the average ticket price. The energy transition shouldn’t be paid for only by the airlines or the energy suppliers, but the whole chain should contribute, including the clients, the Total CEO stated.
50% SAF by 2050
France wants even to go to 50% SAF by 2050. In January 2020, the French government launched a ‘call of interest’ to the industry to set up a national bio-kerosine production of 500 000 tons, five times the size of Total’s current bio-refinery La Mède.
The call was done by French Minister of Energy Transition Elisabeth Borne, at the headquarters of Airbus in Toulouse, after the European airplane builder confirmed that current airplanes could fly on a mixture of 50/50 of regular and bio-kerosine. This can reduce the total CO2 emission balance by 60 to 80%.
Meanwhile, Total announced that besides at La Mède and Oudalle, it would also produce SAF at its Grandpuits zero-crude platform near Paris as of 2024. It aims at producing 200 000 tons of SAF per year by 2025.
Air France-KLM and Total are pioneers in testing sustainable aviation fuels and proved that biofuel has no impact on the reliability of airline operations, so they state in the press release.
“KLM made its first SAF-powered flight in 2009. Since then, the Group has multiplied the number of innovative programs. Between 2014 and 2016, for example, it carried out 78 Air France flights powered by a 10% SAF blend in collaboration with a Total affiliate.”
Used frying fat and oils
To have a real ecological impact and avoid deforestation or endangering the world’s food production, bio-kerosene should be made out of used frying fat, animal fats, cooking oil, residues, or forest waste. The use of palm oil for this, produced on a massive scale by Indonesia, for instance, or wood pallets for which forests are cut, is strongly contested by environmental organizations.
Today, biofuels and e-fuels cost two times more than regular kerosine. Mass production can lower that cost. Or making kerosine more expensive with a European tax could help levering. With fuel costs making out 30 to 40% of the operational cost of an airline, a way of compensating this internationally has to be found to avoid corroding competition in a highly competitive sector.