Make up for delays with domestic production of new aviation fuels

Reducing carbon dioxide emissions from airplanes has become a challenge for decarbonization. The use of a new fuel made from used cooking oil and other materials is said to be able to significantly reduce emissions.

As Europe is already ahead in the production and use of this fuel, Japan must not lag behind. Establishing technology to produce the new fuel domestically must be done urgently.

The International Civil Aviation Organization, a specialized agency of the United Nations that promotes cooperation in the field of aviation, has adopted a goal to reduce CO2 emissions from international flights to net-zero by 2050.

In order to achieve this goal, ICAO urges airline companies to reduce their emissions by at least 15% from the 2019 level starting in 2024. Japan is a key member of ICAO, and Japanese airline companies need to accelerate their response.

Aircraft use jet fuel made from petroleum, emitting more CO2 than trains and other means of transportation. The technological hurdles are high for airplanes to make progress in electrification like automobiles.

The most effective method at present is to use new fuels made from materials such as waste cooking oil, ordinary garbage and algae. These are called sustainable aviation fuels (SAF).

Because SAF are mainly made from plants that absorb CO2, their production to actual use is said to produce 60%-80% fewer emissions than conventional fuels.

The global supply of SAF, however, currently accounts for less than 1% of annual aviation fuel consumption. The competition to produce SAF is likely to intensify in the future. Japan has not been able to produce SAF commercially and has no choice but to import the fuel from Western nations.

If a shortage of SAF emerges in Japan, foreign airlines may hesitate to fly to Japan in the future. For Japan, an island nation, this will be a matter of survival.

The government has established a public-private consultative committee of airline companies, oil companies and other entities with the aim to domestically produce SAF in fiscal 2025. The government also has set a goal of using SAF for 10% of fuel used by Japanese airline companies by 2030.

Along with the government’s moves to promote the use of SAF, companies are urged to stir themselves into action on this issue. For firms that supply SAF, this will be an area in which demand can be said to surely increase. It is essential for them to step forward with aggressive investment.

Eneos Corp., a petroleum wholesaler, and major trading house Mitsubishi Corp. are jointly considering commercializing the supply of SAF in Japan. Euglena Co., a health food company that uses euglena microalgae, is aiming to mass-produce SAF made from algae and waste cooking oil.

Cooperation among a wide range of industries, including food, restaurant and retail sales, is also important in securing waste cooking oil. It is said there is a movement among overseas suppliers to purchase waste cooking oil in Japan. The public and private sectors must work together to create a system to prevent the outflow of waste cooking oil overseas and efficiently collect the material.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Nov. 8, 2022)