There are many significant events in 2023, but if I have to choose one that is closely related to every human being, I will pick the 28th United Nations Climate Change Conference (hereinafter referred to as COP28), which was held in Dubai, United Arab Emirates from November 30th to December 12th, 2023. This is because climate change will lead to changes in the living environment of organisms, depletion of the earth's natural resources, hindrance to world economic development, damage to human health, and ultimately, pose a significant threat to the continuation of human civilization. Therefore, the significance of holding such a global conference aimed at comprehensively reviewing the established goals of the Paris Agreement, accelerating energy transformation to control temperature rise, and promoting investment in green and low-carbon environmental protection is self-evident. As a company deeply involved in the field of environmental protection and sustainable development, MotionECO has developed and deployed complete solutions for converting kitchen waste oil into green biofuels over the past 8 years, while providing consulting and certification services for corporate institutions in sustainable development and carbon neutrality. Mr. Liu Shutong, CEO of MotionECO, also attended this COP28 conference. As his assistant and an online participant, as well as an intern in an environmental protection company, I, Scandi Fang, will record the important arguments on green biofuels presented at the conference and provide recommendations to stakeholders in China who want to promote green biofuels.
New biofuel ideas on COP28
1. Energy transition does not mean the complete withdrawal of fossil fuels. It is worth noting that the resolution on fossil fuels in the draft COP28 conference has changed several times, from "phase-out" to "reduce" to "transition away". From the government's point of view, the debate over the resolution stems from the different interests and needs of different countries. Climate vulnerable countries want a radical climate agreement to curb worsening climate conditions as soon as possible, but oil-producing countries are unlikely to give up their economic lifeline, and developing countries must consider the fact that short-term growth will have to rely on cheap and stable fossil fuels. For example, the representative of Saudi Arabia, as the president of the conference and a member of OPEC, put forward the view that "energy should not be selected, but should focus on emission reduction." In detail, we should not completely deny the value of fossil fuels because they will produce carbon emissions, and fully turn to so-called new energy such as wind energy, water energy, solar energy, etc. People should pay attention to whether the use of a kind of energy can play a role in reducing carbon emissions. Biofuels, including sustainable aviation fuel (hereinafter referred to as SAF), are also fossil fuels, but in their feedstock - production - transport - use cycle (hereinafter referred to as full cycle), carbon emissions are more than 50% less than traditional fossil fuels, and the use of these fuels can also contribute to curbing climate change. China's special envoy for climate change, Xie Zhenhua, who represents developing countries, also said that "completely phasing out fossil energy is not in line with reality". Given the current intermittency of renewable energy, "fossil fuels need to play a flexible regulatory and backstop role to ensure energy supply security and economic and social development." Fossil fuels will continue to exist widely in various fields for a long time in the future as the basic security fuel. Taking into account the unique advantages of stable, high energy-density and low carbon emissions of SAF, it will certainly be used as the main means in the process of low carbonization of industries such as aviation.
Figure 1. Biofuels’ greenhouse gas emission reduction with respect to fossil fuels
Internationalization policies and statements will significantly increase the use of biofuels. During COP28, 52 countries signed the Oil and Gas Decarbonization Charter (hereinafter referred to as OGDC). The OGDC has set two goals: 1. Reduce direct and indirect emissions from the oil and gas industry by at least 30% by 2030; 2. Achieve net zero emissions from the oil and gas sector by 2050, including emissions from downstream product use. The OGDC is the first multi-stakeholder document in COP history to set clear targets for the decarbonization of the fossil fuel sector. The OGDC, as a global declaration of the oil and gas industry, will act as a self-regulatory mechanism between signatories, through the industry's monitoring of the various agencies to achieve the purpose of reducing carbon emissions. For the 50 energy companies that account for more than 40 percent of global oil production, the best solution is to convert existing oil production facilities to biofuel production facilities to meet OGDC's two "decarbonization" targets, taking into account the cost of retrofit and technology commonalities. In addition, more stringent government policies, such as the European Union's "Fit for 55", are more practical in promoting the use of biofuels. For example, the EU aims to generate at least 42.5% of all energy consumption within the EU by 2030 (aiming for 45%) from renewable sources, with the transport sector accounting for 14.5% of emissions reductions. For the airline industry, this policy will be enforced by forcing its domestic flights to be loaded with SAF fuel, which will increase from 2% of total jet fuel in 2025 to 70% in 2050, with a carbon tax levied on violations. Therefore, the consensus reached at COP28 will promote the emergence of more fossil fuel emission reduction agreements, constrain the use of traditional fossil fuels, and greatly promote the production and use of SAF fuels, and strive to reach or exceed 70% of the use of SAF fuels in the aviation industry by the middle of this century.
Figure 2. Mr. Liu Shutong at the COP28 conference
3. Aviation manufacturers are actively promoting the emission reduction capabilities of SAF fuels. A representative of U.S. aircraft manufacturer Boeing shared on advancing the use of SAF fuels at an investor conference at the sub-venue: Boeing is working with NASA and United Airlines on flight tests to retrofit commercial flights with varying proportions of SAF fuel, and through NASA's Airborne science Laboratory to collect data on the carbon emissions of flights using SAF fuel to measure the impact of SAF fuel on contrails and non-carbon emissions. Representatives of British aircraft engine manufacturer Rolls-Royce also introduced their SAF fuel research project with Virgin Atlantic. Virgin Atlantic Flight 100 took off from London's Heathrow Airport to New York's JFK Airport on 28 November, using a Boeing 787 powered by Rolls-Royce Trent 1000 engines and loaded with 100%SAF fuel. “The world's first 100% SAF fuel transatlantic flight operated by a commercial airline is of historic significance”, said Simon Burr, Rolls-Royce's Director of Engineering, Technology and Safety. "Rolls-Royce has recently completed 100%SAF compatibility tests on all in-production civil aero engines, further demonstrating that there are no technical barriers to 100%SAF.". All of these successful examples of aviation manufacturers working with industry companies demonstrate the feasibility and applicability of SAF fuels to help the aviation sector meet its emission reduction targets. At the same time, the representative companies of the aviation industry choose to regard SAF fuel as their future product of energy, which also conveys a signal to the outside world - SAF fuel will be the mainstream fuel in the future aviation industry for a long time.
Figure 3. Ground refuelling of SAF fuel on a Virgin Atlantic flight powered by Rolls-Royce engines
4.France, Britain, Australia and other multinational petrochemical enterprises are optimistic about the development of SAF. France's Total Energy shared at COP28 that it has converted parts of its three refineries to produce biofuels from used cooking oil. Total, for example, is undertaking a €400 million renovation of its Grandpuits Zero-Crude refinery, which from 2025 will produce 210,000 tonnes of SAF per year using cooking oil and animal fats. Total expects to reach 1.5 million tonnes of SAF per year by 2030. And its SAF fuel products account for 10% of the global SAF fuel market. British Petroleum (BP) also said that it is moving forward with the "Air BP SAF" project to convert one of Europe's largest refineries in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, to produce SAF fuel, which is expected to be officially commissioned in 2026. BP has also signed a memorandum of understanding with Australian renewable energy company Fortescue Future Industries (FFI) to build a plant in Australia capable of producing around 500,000 tonnes of SAF fuel per year and start production by 2028. The vigorous development of SAF fuel projects by petrochemical companies not only proves the important role of SAF fuel in promoting global energy transformation and combating climate change, but also lies in the huge commercial value of SAF fuel market, and the investment layout can produce huge economic benefits. Therefore, I believe that the SAF fuel market in the future will be a vast blue ocean comparable to the current tram market, and there is still a huge blank market waiting for companies to occupy.
Figure 4. SAF fuel tanker of the French energy company Total
Advice to interested parties on SAF
1. The Chinese government should introduce more practical policies related to SAF. At present, the Chinese government's policy on SAF only stays in the 14th Five-Year Civil Aviation Green Development Special Plan issued by the Civil Aviation Administration in January 2022, which plans that "by 2025, the total sustainable fuel consumption of airlines will reach 50,000 tons and strive to reach more than 20,000 tons of sustainable aviation fuel consumption in 2025." This figure of 50,000 tons is obviously very conservative for China, the world's second largest air services market. At the same time, the plan does not mention the specific implementation methods and operating mechanisms of the policy. Therefore, the Civil Aviation Administration should make the following improvements and supplements on the basis of this plan: 1. In the SAF produced by different raw materials and technical paths, it is clear which kinds of meet the requirements of China's aviation industry "carbon reduction"; 2. Establish an incentive mechanism to stimulate the production of petrochemical enterprises and the enthusiasm of airlines to use SAF by means of publicity and subsidies; 3. Establish a punishment mechanism to impose fines, carbon tax and other substantive penalties on petrochemical enterprises and airlines that fail to meet emission reduction targets to improve the effectiveness of policy implementation; 4. In the process of calculating the SAF consumption data, it is necessary to supervise the raw materials, production, transportation and use of SAF, and calculate the carbon emissions therein into the final data to prevent data deviation; 5. It is recommended to re-evaluate the reasonableness of the target of "50,000 tons" and "20,000 tons" in the original plan, and introduce more aggressive SAF usage targets in the future.
Figure 5. Delegates at COP28
2. NGOs should pay more attention to SAF fuel. At present, international organizations such as Greenpeace and domestic NGOs concerned about climate change, such as the Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs, focus more on promoting the traditional public cognition of "sustainable energy" represented by solar energy, wind energy and water energy. Biofuels, such as SAF fuels, are generally unknown to the public, believing that they need to be burned like traditional fossil fuels and emit carbon dioxide. Therefore, NGOs should actively establish information communication channels and partnerships with today's biofuel producers, learn about the latest technological achievements of biofuels such as SAF fuel, and disseminate knowledge about biofuels to the public by holding publicity activities such as lectures and exhibitions and opening social media accounts to publish popular science tweets. Make the public realize the huge emission reduction effect of biofuels compared with traditional fossil fuels in the whole process and have the advantages of mature technology and good compatibility with today's transportation vehicles, so as to break the public's prejudice against biofuels, inspire the public interest, and let more environmental activists join the field of biofuels.
3. China's traditional energy-related enterprises should invest in the layout of biofuel industry as soon as possible. At present, the only existing producers of biofuel products in the domestic market are Sinopec Zhenhai Refining and Chemical Company, which produces SAF fuel, and Longyan Zhuoyue New Energy Company, which produces biodiesel. The number of producers and annual output is far smaller than the European market, BP, Total and dozens of other companies. The lack of competition in the industry and the lack of production have resulted in the market price of both Zhenhai Refined and Chemical Company’s SAF fuel and Zhuoyue New Energy Company’s biodiesel being more than twice the market price of conventional fuel oil. The huge price difference and the potential to increase production means that many traditional petrochemical enterprises in China invest in the new production process of biofuels, the use of sufficient raw materials for biofuels, the advantage of high compatibility with old equipment and low cost can allow them to quickly convert existing refining equipment into biofuel production equipment. This not only completes the requirements of national green petrochemical enterprises, but also can seize market share, achieves economies of scale, occupy the dominant position in the future market, and earn higher profits by new process’s low cost and low cost. Therefore, the domestic biofuel market in its infancy is definitely the next investment hotspot for traditional energy-related enterprises.
Figure 6. MotionECO helped Zhenhai Refining and Chemical Company’s SAF fuel obtain the first RSB-EU/CORSIA certification in the Asia-Pacific region
4. Academic institutions should deepen research and development of SAF fuel and pay attention to the combination of industry and science. First of all, in view of the low conversion rate and high cost of the current mainstream SAF production technology - HEFA, SAF fuel products are not competitive in the jet fuel market, academic institutions should start to develop new SAF fuel production technology to achieve the characteristics of high conversion rate, low processing cost and fast reaction rate without improving the raw material standard. At the same time, for the different SAF fuel production technology routes that have been developed (such as FT Process, Alcohol-to-jet, Power-to-liquid and other technologies), different types of optimizations should be carried out according to their application scenarios, so that they can be applied to industrial production. In addition, the technology for the production of SAF fuels is ubiquitous and only developed by the producers themselves. This is easy to cause behind closed doors, technology research and development success is lagging behind the problem. Therefore, academic institutions studying SAF fuel should pay attention to the cooperation with SAF fuel manufacturers, not only can accept the scientific research funds provided by the manufacturers, but also the latest SAF fuel production technology provided by academic institutions can help SAF fuel manufacturers upgrade the production process in the first time to ensure the market competitiveness of their products.
Figure7 . SAF fuel production unit of Zhenhai Refining and Chemical Company
As a young generation concerned about climate change, our partners, like all environmentalists, feel a great responsibility to protect the future of our planet. The COP28 conference not only made me see the great determination and practical actions of countries around the world in tackling climate change, but also the positive confidence conveyed by the conference on biofuels made me more convinced that SAF fuel deserves the attention and participation of our generation with more knowledge channels, more open attitudes and broader international perspectives. Therefore, I sincerely invite the young people of Generation Z to join the field of biofuels represented by SAF fuel, and jointly respond to the call of "solidarity", "action" and "implementation" of COP28 conference through academic research, scientific and technological innovation, exchange and sharing, popularization of science and technology, and even daily use. Contributing to a greener, more sustainable future belongs to biofuels, which belongs to us.
Dear readers, my name is Qi’an Fang, a high school student from Shenzhen College of International Education and also an intern of MotionECO. I study aviation and environmental science currently, aim for majoring sustainable energy such as SAF in the future. It’s my pleasure to share my experiences and ideas about SAF for you through my articles.