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High cost of sustainable aviation fuel sinks federal goal

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The federal government set high-flying goals for the production and use of sustainable aviation fuel, but the high cost of the fuel has sunk them.

In March, the U.S. Government Accountability Office found that sustainable aviation fuel production reached 15.8 million gallons in 2022. That’s less than 0.1% of the total jet fuel used by major U.S. airlines and far short of federal goals.

In 2012, the Federal Aviation Administration set a goal for U.S. airlines to use 1 billion gallons of sustainable aviation fuel per year by 2018.

The biggest problem: High costs.

“The high price of sustainable aviation fuel compared to conventional jet fuel is a key factor inhibiting increased production and use,” according to a report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office. “Other factors inhibiting market growth include the long time frames and high costs of developing new sustainable aviation fuel production facilities.”

Stakeholders told the U.S. Government Accountability Office that sustainable aviation fuel production facilities can cost $1 billion and take anywhere from 5 to 10 years to complete.

The White House announced a sustainable aviation fuel Grand Challenge in September 2021 with a goal to supply 3 billion gallons of sustainable aviation fuel per year by 2030 and around 35 billion gallons per year by 2050, which would be enough to meet 100% of projected U.S. domestic commercial jet fuel demand. Sustainable aviation fuel is made from renewable and waste feedstocks that can reduce greenhouse gas emissions on a lifecycle basis.

The Government Accountability Office recommended the federal departments working on the project put in place performance metrics. The Departments of Transportation, Energy, and Agriculture agreed with the recommendation.

“Incorporating performance measures into the Grand Challenge roadmap could help enable the agencies to better manage fragmentation by monitoring and evaluating the effectiveness of their actions, and communicating and reporting on the extent to which sustainable aviation fuel is poised to contribute to larger aviation greenhouse gas emissions reduction goals,” according to the report.

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