Beginner's Guide to Sustainable Aviation Fuel

Air Transport Action Group (ATAG)

Efficiency has always been a tremendous driver of progress in aviation and has made air travel and mobility central to modern life. Indeed, today, our engines are at the cutting edge of efficiency and our aircraft are more aerodynamic and lighter than ever before. We are making improvements in air traffic control efficiency, how we fly our aircraft and in developing less environmentally-impacting operations at airports. But we are still, for the vast majority of flights, using the same fuel. That is now changing.

Aviation’s drive for fuel and operational efficiency has helped the industry limit its emissions. To go even further, the aviation industry has embarked on a journey that will lead us to net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. Sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) has a crucial role to play in providing a cleaner source of energy to power the world’s fleet of aircraft and help the billions of people who travel by air each year to lower the impact of their journeys. The industry’s Waypoint 2050 analysis suggests that SAF will contribute between 53 and 71% of the emissions reductions needed to get to net-zero by 2050.

This guide looks at the opportunities and challenges in developing sustainable aviation fuel for the commercial aviation sector and the measures that will be required for the aviation industry to scale up production with assistance from governments.

To learn more about the other aircraft technologies and operational and infrastructure improvements underway across the aviation industry, see

Two fact sheets are also available, providing information on blended finance and sustainable aviation fuel finance.

Some examples on SAF collaborations and developments are provided below:

SAF in action
  • Yield10 Bioscience and American Airlines: The two companies signed an MoU in February 2023 to collaborate and develop the value chain for camelina as a feedstock oil for sustainable aviation fuel1. Under the MoU, Yield10 and American are planning to work together to support the development of the camelina oil-based SAF value chain with the potential to secure offtake agreements for use in the commercial airline business2.

  • All Nippon Airways operated first flight in the world using an ASTM certified fuel from microalgae3
    Japan’s largest airline, All Nippon Airways operated a regular commercial flight utilising sustainable aviation fuel made from microalgae blended with traditional jet fuel. The flight was between Tokyo Haneda and Osaka Itami. It was the first flight in the world to use SAF certified to meet ASTM D7566 Annex7 jet fuel specifications. The SAF was produced by IHI Corporation based in Japan. IHI is working on the development of microalgae (hyper Growth Botryococcus Braunii).

  • Fuji Dream Air flight fuelled with SAF made from algae and used cooking oil4:
    Fuji Dream Air charter operated a flight in March 2022 using sustainable aviation fuel for the first time. The special charter carried 77 passengers. The flight took from Mount Fiji-shizuoka International Airport and landed in Nagoya-Komaki Airport and was completed in one hour. Fuji Dream Air has partnered with Euglena, a Tokyo based company that has pioneered the outdoor mass cultivation technology for microalgae Euglena. SUSTEO is a kind of SAF, produced mainly from used cooking oil and Euglena. SUSTEO emits CO2 at the combustion stage just as fossil fuels do, but both Euglena and plants absorb CO2 by photosynthesis during the growing stage, so it helps in achieving a carbon-neutral state.

Technology in action
  • Universal Hydrogen successfully completed its first flight of hydrogen-powered regional airliner5: Universal Hydrogen Co, in March 2023, flew with 40 passengers on a regional airliner using hydrogen fuel cell propulsion. The airplane has been nicknamed Lightning McClean and it flew from Grant County International Airport (KMWH) for 15 minutes, reaching an altitude of 3500 MSL. This is the largest hydrogen fuel cell powered aeroplane to take to the skies so far and the largest aeroplane to cruise principally on hydrogen. In this first test flight, one of the aeroplane’s turbine engines was replaced with Universal Hydrogen’s fuel cell-electric, megawatt-class powertrain. The other was left as a conventional engine for the safety of the flight.

  • The first all-electric passenger aeroplane, Alice, takes flight6: Israeli founded company Eviation Aircraft has successfully operated Alice, which is the world’s first electric passenger aircraft designed to accommodate nine passengers. It took off from Washington’s Grant County International Airport. Alice made its first flight on 27 September, 2022 and this zero-emission aircraft reached an altitude of 3,500 feet for its eight-minute inaugural flight. Its technology is similar to that of an electric car or a cell phone and with 30 minutes of charging. The nine-passenger Alice will be able to fly for one to two hours. Eviation is currently targeting to bring Alice into service by 2027.

1 Frontiers 2022 research article, “Oilseed Cover Crops for Sustainable Aviation Fuels Production and Reduction in Greenhouse Gas Emissions Through Land Use Savings”.

2 Yield10 Bioscience, Inc., 2023 article “Yield10 Bioscience and American Airlines Sign MOU to Form a Collaboration to Develop the Value Chain for Camelina as a Feedstock Oil for Sustainable Aviation Fuel" article.

3 ANA Group press release, 2021 “ANA Conducted a Flight Using Sustainable Aviation Fuel Produced from Microalgae”.

4 Embraer press release, 2022 “First Sustainable Aviation Fuel-Powered Fuji Dream Air Flight”.

5 Flying Magazine article, 2023 “Universal Hydrogen Completes First Test Flight of Fuel Cell-Powered Airliner”.

6 CNN article, 2022 “Alice, the first all-electric passenger airplane, takes flight”.