Support innovation in the next generation of sustainable aviation fuels
The most environmentally friendly SAF is a power-to-liquid fuel. This requires two main inputs - green hydrogen and CO2. For this solution to be CO2 neutral, the carbon needs to be sourced by Direct Air Capture (DAC). This would create no net emissions, compared to CO2 sourced from industrial gases. Waste-based SAF still produces some emissions from the burning of the waste materials.
Green hydrogen is produced by an electrolyser, using renewable electricity and water. DAC uses vast amounts of energy to remove carbon from the atmosphere, which is then stored underground. Both the green hydrogen and DAC industries are at very early stages of development in the UK and their costs are high. Industry targets and financing models, to enable the private sector to invest in currently expensive technologies, would spur innovation and speed up deployment.
The government’s current engineered greenhouse gas removals (GGRs) target is 5 MtCO2 per year by 2030. We propose a specific DAC target to encourage the development of this industry. BEIS and UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) have already allocated over £100 million of funding to develop GGRs like DAC. BEIS has also consulted on a contract-based financing scheme for GGRs. This should be confirmed as soon as possible so the first DAC plant can be developed.
Clean hydrogen will be necessary for both hydrogen fuel cell and combustion aircraft as well as power-to-liquid SAF. The government has doubled its clean hydrogen target to 10 gigawatts by 2030, with at least half coming from green hydrogen. It is also creating a financing scheme for clean hydrogen through the Energy Bill. The UK needs to scale up production quickly and affordably, and provide stability and certainty to leverage private investment into this new technology.
Many different industries are hoping to use hydrogen to decarbonise, not just aviation. However, for some of these industries, like home heating, there are much more efficient alternatives. For this reason aviation should be a priority use case for hydrogen with its own target and be given greater prominence in the UK’s hydrogen strategy. The costs of producing green hydrogen for aviation should be borne not by electricity bill payers, as is currently proposed in the Energy Bill, but rather by the industry through the CfD mechanism mentioned above.