Helping Virgin Atlantic reach its Sustainable Aviation Fuel targets
Visiting new places, friends, and business partners without contributing to global warming is an enviable ambition. Sustainable Aviation Fuels (SAF) will play a critical role in making this a reality. Global SAF production is rapidly increasing, but the market is still relatively small. This is complicated by diverse production technologies, sustainability attributes, and regulatory schemes. Like many airlines, Virgin Atlantic has drawn on ICF's global expertise to understand, design, and implement initiatives to increase its use of SAF.
In October 2021, Virgin Atlantic committed to reducing its net carbon emissions to zero by 2050. As a first step, the airline set a target to use 10% SAF by 2030.
Virgin Atlantic flew the world’s first commercial flight using sustainable fuels in 2018 and is a founding member of the UK’s Jet Zero COUNCIL and Sustainable Aviation COALITION. But achieving its decarbonization ambition requires faster development of the SAF industry. Our team was tasked to support the airline to develop and implement a SAF strategy.
Our experts worked closely with the airline to evaluate the market, meet producers, and negotiate offtake contracts. The strategy started by calculating the volume of SAF required to meet Virgin Atlantic’s blending and decarbonization targets. From there, we developed an offtake plan to take advantage of the SAF opportunities across the different regions and policy environments where the airline operates.
Next, we worked with Virgin Atlantic to develop SAF procurement criteria, considering the current opportunities and the potential to progress to increasingly sustainable feedstocks. Using these criteria, we engaged 24 different SAF producers and evaluated their potential against the strategy. This allowed Virgin Atlantic to identify the partnership opportunities best suited to achieving its goals. We then provided technical due diligence for the selected producers. We also advised Virgin Atlantic during contract negotiations to ensure that the subsequent offtakes were fairly structured and will help both the airline and the producers to lead the decarbonization of the aviation industry.
Virgin Atlantic has rapidly accelerated its SAF initiatives. At Virgin Atlantic’s hub at London Heathrow, Neste has already supplied 2,000 metric tonnes of neat SAF through their partners at ExxonMobil. In the U.S., Virgin Atlantic secured an offtake agreement with Gevo, which is equivalent to 216,000 tons over seven years. This SAF will be supplied in California in partnership with Virgin Atlantic’s joint venture partner, Delta Air Lines.
Virgin Atlantic is keen to progress the transition to more sustainable approaches. To achieve this, it has also signed a memorandum of understanding with Air Company, an innovative U.S. start-up working to produce SAF from renewable electricity. Virgin Atlantic is continuing to develop SAF initiatives across its network and has also been selected by the U.K. government to operate the world’s first 100% SAF transatlantic flight in 2023.
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