ReFuelEU: EU Agrees to Leading SAF Mandate

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The Council and the European Parliament have reached a preliminary agreement on a proposal that seeks to decarbonise the aviation sector and establish fair competition for sustainable air transport through the ReFuelEU aviation initiative. This proposal aims to increase the demand for, and supply of, sustainable aviation fuels (SAF) while ensuring a level playing field across the EU air transport market.

The European Institutions also say that the proposal is a significant step towards achieving the EU’s climate targets for 2030 and 2050, as SAF are considered a key short- and medium-term solution for decarbonising aviation. The ReFuelEU is one of the many measures which are part of the Fit for 55 package.

TLDR: The ReFuelEU provisional agreement

In short, the ReFuelEU provisional agreement ensures that starting from 2025, at least 2% of aviation fuels will be “green”, with this share increasing every five years: 6% in 2030, 20% in 2035, 34% in 2040, 42% in 2045 and 70% in 2050. The provisional agreement also establishes that a specific proportion of the fuel mix (1.2% in 2030, 2% in 2032, 5% in 2035 and progressively reaching 35% in 2050) must comprise synthetic fuels like e-kerosene.

As per the agreement, sustainable aviation fuels encompass a range of options, including synthetic fuels, specific biofuels derived from agricultural or forestry residues, algae, bio-waste, used cooking oil or certain animal fats, as well as recycled jet fuels produced from waste gases and waste plastic.

Feed and food crop-based fuels and fuels derived from palm and soy materials are not considered sustainable under the ReFuelEU provisional agreement.

ReFuelEU: Is it law yet?

No. The provisional agreement will undergo further approval processes, including review by the Council Committee of Permanent Representatives and Parliament’s Transport and Tourism Committee, followed by final approval by the Council and the entire Parliament.

From Commission to Parliament & Council; what’s changed?

The provisional agreement maintains the fundamental elements of the Commission’s proposal, including:

  • Aviation fuel suppliers will be required to ensure that a minimum proportion of Sustainable Aviation Fuels (SAF) is included in the fuel made available to aircraft operators at EU airports, starting from 2025. Additionally, from 2030, a minimum share of synthetic fuels will also be required, with both proportions progressively increasing until 2050.
  • A transitional period will be established to allow fuel suppliers to achieve the SAF blending mandate as a weighted average of the quantities supplied across the Union. This is aimed at facilitating the organization of the sector during its initial phase without impacting overall emissions levels.
  • Aircraft operators will be obligated to ensure that at least 90% of the yearly aviation fuel uplifted at a given EU airport is the yearly aviation fuel required, in order to avoid emissions associated with extra weight resulting from tankering practices.
  • Airlines will be obligated to ensure that at least 90% of their yearly fuel requirements at a EU given airport are uplifted at the given airport. This is to avoid emissions associated with extra weight resulting from tinkering practices.
  • Reporting requirements will be imposed on fuel suppliers and aircraft operators.
  • Rules will be established regarding the competent authorities designated by member states to enforce this regulation, as well as rules pertaining to fines.

The provisional agreement also saw amendments to the Commission’s initial proposal by the European Parliament and Council, which include:

  • The promotion of hydrogen at EU airports.
  • The establishment of a Union-wide labelling scheme, starting by 2025, which highlights the environmental performance of aircraft operators utilizing Sustainable Aviation Fuels (SAF) which will empower consumers to make informed choices and encourage less environmentally detrimental flights.
  • The inclusion of provisions allowing competent authorities of member states to grant exemptions from tankering requirements for specific flights in cases of recurrent operational difficulties or structural fuel supply challenges, based on defined criteria.
  • Strengthening data collection and reporting obligations to effectively monitor the impact of this regulation on the competitiveness of EU operators and platforms, as well as to enhance understanding of the non-CO2 effects of emissions from air transport.
  • Extending the scope of eligible SAF and synthetic fuels to include select certified biofuels which comply with the Renewable Energy Directive (RED) sustainability and emissions saving criteria, in addition hydrogen and synthetic low-carbon aviation fuels.

ReFuelEU: Reactions

Decarbonising air transport has been a major pain point for policy makers, stakeholders, and the industry alike. This is partially because of the air transport sector’s unique regulatory framework, and because it is a uniquely hard to abate sector which accounts for 13,4% of total CO2 emissions from EU transport.

Below is a collection of reactions to the ReFuelEU Aviation provisional agreement.  Noteworthy statements have been presented in bold.

European Parliament –

EP rapporteur José Ramón Bauzá Díaz (Renew, ES) said: “After months of intense negotiations, I am happy to conclude the Fit for 55 package today. I am also proud to say the European Parliament has been successful in defending and advancing the ambitious development of sustainable aviation fuels across the EU. We have created a level playing field through harmonised rules and preserved EU air connectivity. With this regulation, the decarbonisation of aviation becomes closer.” (link)

Claudia Monteiro de Aguiar MEP, EPP Group negotiator on ReFuelEU Aviation said: “With today’s deal, Europe takes-off towards the decarbonisation of air transport. The EPP Group has supported measures to ramp up the market of sustainable aviation fuels in the most cost-effective manner, in line with the highest environmental standards in the world. The new rules will oblige aviation fuel suppliers to deliver the share of SAFs with flexibility. A broad definition of SAF will help European producers and aircraft operators to meet realistic targets. Now, we must do everything possible to invest in the development and deployment of SAFs made in Europe and make sure regional connectivity is not affected”. (link)

Ciarán Cuffe, MEP, Greens/EFA negotiator, said: “Under this deal, we have mandated the increasing use of sustainable aviation fuels over time, setting a pathway for the aviation sector to rid itself of fossil fuel dependence. The targets agreed are not enough to reach climate neutrality however, and we are disappointed that nuclear power can contribute to the production of some of these fuels. Ramping up the use of renewable fuels will therefore be essential to reach our climate goals in the coming years, particularly as biofuels can only play a limited role. This is why I am pleased that a higher proportion of e-fuels than what the Commission originally proposed has been agreed. Such fuels offer the most promising route to a decarbonised aviation sector. We also ensured that palm oil by-products and other damaging biofuels cannot be used as fuels for aviation.” (link)

Industry –

Conrad Clifford, IATA Deputy Director General, said: “This agreement provides important clarity on expected future SAF levels in the EU, and we thank the EU Parliament and Member States for their work with the Commission. While mandates for SAF use send a signal to producers and the market, without a comprehensive policy framework to incentivise cheaper production and more flexible rules of supply, mandates alone simply risk a huge increase in cost and a licence to print money for fuel suppliers, while raising the price of mobility throughout the EU. At minimum, it is essential that a book and claim system be established to create a flexible market for SAF across the EU. We expect that the report the Commission will produce will confirm this. The reality is that the Commission have already conceded that supply will be uneven across the EU, which therefore makes it all the more essential to have a proper B&C system in place before the 2% mandate comes into force.” (link)

Acting Managing Director of A4E Laurent Donceel said: ““Sustainable Aviation Fuel is the cornerstone of bringing aviation to Net Zero carbon emissions. This agreement provides certainty for the SAF industry and airlines alike as we work towards the first target of 2% SAF uptake by 2025. ReFuel EU is not the final destination for sustainable aviation fuel in Europe. European policymakers need to ensure they now follow through and help build a world-leading SAF industry, strengthening fuel security, and delivering sustainable jobs. The EU needs to think about SAF the way it thinks about wind turbines, solar panels and other sustainable technologies in order to support aviation’s energy transition whilst not pricing passenger out of the air.” (link)

Ralf Diemer, Managing Director of the eFuel Alliance said: “There is no alternative to liquid fuels in aviation. In order to pave the way to climate neutrality in this sector as well, it is fundamental to boost the production of climate-neutral liquid eFuels at an early stage. Ambitious quotas are crucial for this. The ReFuelEU Aviation is the only legislation that provides binding quotas for eFuels beyond 2030. This long planning horizon is crucial, especially for scaling eFuels production. […] At the same time, the aspect of global competitiveness of European airlines and hubs must not be neglected, especially at the beginning of the production ramp-up, quota fulfilment comes with higher costs, which can have a negative impact on competitiveness.” (link)

easyJet – “easyJet commends the Commission and EU institutions for coming to an agreement on the EU’s sustainable aviation fuels (SAFs) mandate. This legislation will rightly cover both short and long-haul departures across Europe, as easyJet and others were calling for, thereby helping the entire sector to decarbonise. Strong sustainability standards will limit the use of non-sustainable feedstocks and scalable SAFs have been prioritised. The eco-labelling provisions will bring much-needed transparency to consumers on how they can fly with the lowest footprint. SAFs remain an important stepping stone in our decarbonisation journey, alongside zero-carbon emissions technologies like hydrogen. This landmark legislation is a step in the right direction.” (link)

Further reading: UK Sets Sights on Sustainable Skies as USA Proposes Stringent Pollution Standards on Cars and Trucks: GMPB

NGOs –

Matteo Mirolo, aviation manager at T&E, said: “This pioneering deal is an unwavering endorsement of the world’s largest green fuel mandate for aviation. The EU doubled down on synthetic fuels, which are key to decarbonising the sector, and limited the use of unsustainable biofuels in planes. This deal and the latest provision on SAF allowances agreed upon last week in the carbon market (EU ETS) provide airlines with the certainty that synthetic kerosene will become cheaper and widely available. The ramp-up of SAFs can now start, but there is more work to be done. Ensuring the success of SAFs will require industrial support policies for synthetic kerosene but also stronger safeguards to ensure that no unsustainable biofuels creep into airplane tanks.” (link)

This article was originally published for the Green Mobility Magazine.

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