MINNEAPOLIS — A Virgin Atlantic commercial flight took off from the London Heathrow airport Tuesday with its sights set on New York City, and it created a lot less pollution in the process. It used 100% sustainable aviation fuel (SAF), which can cut emissions by more than half.
It was the first commercial long-haul flight to use this sort of fuel.
The aviation world is trying to reinvent the wheel a bit to decarbonize fleets and cut emissions that are contributing to climate change.
What is sustainable fuel made of?
Virgin Atlantic says it's a combination of cooking oil, non-food crops, solid waste and industrial waste gasses from processes like steel making. The beauty is it can be used in existing planes and we can transport it through existing pipelines.
How much does this type of solution move the needle?
Virgin Atlantic says this mix has proven to safely power flights and has the capacity to reduce lifecycle carbon emissions by up to 70% to 80%, or even more, compared to typical fossil fuels.
Remember, in 2022 aviation accounted for 2% of global carbon dioxide emissions. That's still not at pre-pandemic levels, but it's growing faster than rail or road shipping.
When is this coming to Minnesota?
This summer, Minnesota launched a coalition to start and scale sustainable aviation fuel production. Delta Air Lines, Ecolab and Xcel Energy are all involved in this problem-solving effort. They're coming up with a shared strategy to aggressively decarbonize and reach net zero by 2050 using this technology.
Delta says it wants 10% of its fuel at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport to be SAF by 2027, and half to be SAF by 2035. Greater MSP is coordinating this effort and the group says Minnesota stands to gain if we can make this stuff here at home:
"This is an exciting solution because it can create jobs from every corner of the state all the way to the tarmac of the airport. When we say jobs, we mean tens of thousands of jobs, from the farm field to refining, processing and transport, but also scientific and research positions," said Peter Frosch, CEO of Greater MSP.
The challenge right now is we don't produce enough of this sustainable aviation fuel right now. There's none available at MSP currently. Frosch says we'll redirect it from other states initially and then start producing our own in a year or two.
Frosch also said other countries like Japan are interested in Minnesota-made sustainable aviation fuel, ensuring this could be big business very soon.
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