Heathrow pilots – plus refuelling crews – pilot UK’s first sustainable jet fuel pilot


Britain’s busiest airport today announced an experiment to refuel jets with 100% renewable fuel, now successfully pumped through its distribution network.

Supplied by oil trader Vitol’s aviation arm in co-operation with Finnish refiners Neste, LHR is piloting sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) ahead of next week’s G7 summit of world heads of government in Cornwall.

The trial’s volumes have been set small, enough to power up to ten short haul flights.  Once the concept is proved, larger deployment on a fully operational scale is targeted.

Neste’s proprietary SAF is called HEFA – Hydrotreated Esters and Fatty Acids, made up from vegetable oils, waste oils and fats.   Used neat, the refiner’s wing-borne motion lotion is claimed to eliminate up to 80% of greenhouse gas emissions, compared to conventional hydrocarbon-derived combustibles.

Straight and level

Airport and airlines worldwide see increased use of sustainable aviation fuel as key to stripping carbon out of aviation.   CO2-derived pollutants emitted at high altitude have a disproportionately larger effect – and a longer atmospheric life – in driving up ambient environmental temperatures.

Heathrow head honcho John Holland-Kaye opined, “We are delighted that Heathrow is the first UK major airport to successfully incorporate sustainable aviation fuels into its operation”.

“Together with other technologies, it offers a pathway to achieving net zero aviation in line with the Paris Agreement”.

In a bid to boost production of low-carbon jet fuel, Heathrow is calling on the government to promote a step-ladder of clean aviation, mandating airlines to use at least 10% SAF in tanks by 2030, rising to 50% by 2050.

Such a pathway should accompany, the industry argues, commercial incentives for airlines to foster investment in cleaner propulsion, putting Britain at the forefront of SAF production.

At Immingham on Humberside, start-up Velocys in partnership with British Airways plans 2025 to begin commercial production of their own SAF variant, sourced from general household and commercial waste.   The pair shrugged off Shell’s withdrawal in January from the project, claiming development funds are secure.


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