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How to successfully scale up Sustainable Aviation Fuel solutions

Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF) is currently the best option for reducing carbon emissions in aviation, but the high cost remains a big barrier to widespread adoption. Here’s why and how partners across the aviation value chain are joining forces to fund the purchase of SAF, ramp up production, and decarbonize air transport.

Cracking the SAF ‘chicken and egg’ problem

Expanding the use of sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) is currently facing the classic ‘chicken and egg’ challenge. Over 490,000 flights have used SAF since 2016, but it still accounts for less than 1% of the jet fuel market. That’s because the cost remains far too high, which keeps demand far too low. Producers need capital to invest in new production capacity and reach a scale that competes with existing fossil fuels. But many shippers are unwilling or unable to pay the price premiums necessary to fund these investments.

SAF have been identified as one of the key elements in helping achieve the ambitious emissions reduction goals. © IATA

Here's the thing: we need SAF right now because there are few real alternatives. Limiting global warming to 1.5°C compared to pre-industrial times, as outlined in the Paris Agreement, requires every industry to decarbonize. Transportation is one industry that is falling behind. Battery technology is not ready for long-distance commercial flights, which cause most air transport emissions. And hydrogen power is not mature enough to replace jet engines in larger aircraft.

SAF is simply the best option we have to reduce air transport emissions right now.

Collaborating with committed partners to drive demand for sustainable aviation fuel

How can we solve this problem? How do we create the demand needed to boost supply? The answer is by joining forces with like-minded companies and organizations. 

One example is the Clean Skies for Tomorrow Coalition (CST), led by the World Economic Forum (WEF). CST brings together stakeholders across and beyond the aviation value chain to align on a transition to SAF and ultimately achieve carbon-neutral flying. We’re a proud supporter of the coalition and signatory the CST’s 2030 Ambition Statement. One important project is developing a workable solution to create a voluntary market for SAF that will unlock new revenue and accelerate SAF production. In 2021, the WEF, in collaboration with PwC Netherlands and RMI, released a white paper introducing a “sustainable aviation fuel certificate” (also “SAF certificate” or “SAFc”) as such a solution, which could be used with a book and claim’ system to facilitate the purchase of SAF. It’s proving to be a game changer.

That year, we joined United Airlines’ Eco-Skies Alliance to test the SAFc concept. In early 2022, we started a three-year cooperation with Air France KLM Martinair Cargo to purchase 33 million liters of sustainable aviation fuel and announced one of the largest SAF deals to date: a collaboration with bp and Neste to buy more than 800 million liters through 2026. In 2023, we launched a partnership with IAG Cargo to order 11.5 million liters of SAF, marking another milestone on our journey toward sustainable air freight.

Primary benefits of Sustainable Aviation Fuel


To keep global warming well below 2°C, it’s critical to reduce emissions between now and 2030 (according to IPCC).


Potential to increase global SAF production to cover 10% of the jet fuel market by 2030, if suitable investments are made.


SAF is the only “in-sector” climate solution for the air transport sector.


SAF can be used right now in today’s aircraft, most of which will be operational for decades.

What is sustainable aviation fuel?

Let’s take a step back for a moment because many people want to know what SAF is. SAFs are alternative liquid fuels that can be used in place of traditional jet fuel to power aircraft. Unlike traditional jet fuel, which is derived from petroleum, SAFs are biofuels made from sustainable and renewable resources (feedstock) such as used cooking oil, animal fats, and agricultural waste. In contrast to fossil fuels, which emit carbon that had been previously locked away in the ground, SAFs release the carbon that was absorbed by the feedstock during its lifecycle, making them carbon neutral. SAFs are also sustainable because the raw feedstock doesn’t compete with food crops or water supplies or lead to forest degradation.

SAFs offer several benefits over traditional jet fuel, including a significant reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, lower particulate matter emissions, and improved air quality. SAFs can be blended with traditional jet fuel and used in existing aircraft engines without any modifications, making them a so-called ‘drop-in’ replacement for fossil-based fuel.

The aviation industry is a significant contributor to greenhouse gas emissions, and SAFs represent a promising solution to reduce the sector's carbon footprint. SAFs can reduce emissions by up to 80% compared to traditional jet fuel, making them a key tool in the fight against climate change. The International Air Transport Association (IATA) estimates that SAF could contribute around 65% of the reduction in emissions needed by aviation to reach net-zero in 2050.

Sustainable Aviation Fuel in 2023

490,000+ Flights

Have used SAF since 2016

300+ Million

Liters of SAF produced, up from eight million in 2016

$17 Billion

In forward purchase agreements of SAF

7 Pathways

To produce SAF, approved by the aviation industry (11 expected by 2025)

Source: IATA

How do you buy sustainable aviation fuels?

The answer is similar to the way you can purchase renewable energy. Consumers can’t control the source of the energy piped into their homes. The same goes for people who purchase passenger seats or air cargo services: they have no control over the fuel pumped into the aircraft that takes them on vacation or carries their goods to market. That’s where SAFc comes in. Modeled after energy attribute certificates (EACs), which helped enable the power of markets to drive change and accelerate demand for renewable energy, corporations and individuals can purchase sustainable aviation fuel certificates to achieve their climate goals while simultaneously funding the ramp-up of SAF production.

So, how exactly do sustainable aviation fuel certificates work? Fuel producers generate an SAFc for each metric ton of SAF produced from sustainable feedstock. They sell the physical fuel and the virtual energy attributes as SAFc. Aircraft operators receive the fuel and claim the value of the direct emissions reduction (Scope 1). Air transport customers can buy the value of the indirect emissions reduction (Scope 3).

This is all done through a 'book and claim' accounting system that tracks and transfers the emissions reductions from sustainable fuels across the value chain. By buying and selling SAFc, companies can own the environmental benefits of SAF even though the physical fuel might not end up in the aircraft that carriers their goods. The system gives everyone in the industry, regardless of location or size, access to the market. DHL Global Forwarding first piloted the system with select customers before making it available to all in February 2022. In 2023, DHL Express launched GoGreen Plus, which also allows customers to reduce the carbon emissions associated with their cargo using SAF.

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How do we scale up production sustainable aviation fuels?

As mentioned above, we have to work together across the aviation value chain to make this model a real game changer. Together with our partners, we’re purchasing the SAF available now and placing orders for more – orders that suppliers don’t even have the capacity yet to fill. Why are we doing this? Because it’s the only way to stimulate the changes needed to create an SAF marketplace – to drive up the demand for and, in turn, the supply of sustainable aviation fuel. 

For example, the United Airlines’ Eco-Skies Alliance was a first-of-its-kind program to reduce our environmental impact while helping United make flying more sustainable. In 2021, the  alliance purchased the environmental benefits of 3.4 million gallons (12.87 million liters) of SAF. That eliminated about 31,000 metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions on a lifecycle basis, compared to the use of conventional jet fuel. United blends the SAF with its regular aviation fuel, which reduces the carbon emissions of United Airlines flights, many of which carry our customers’ cargo. This way, we achieve genuine carbon reductions and share the benefits with our customers, helping them to reduce their carbon footprint.

And that was just the start. In 2023, DHL Express, our division for global courier, express, and parcel services, launched GoGreen Plus. The new service allows customers to reduce the carbon emissions associated with their shipments by ‘insetting’ SAF. This capability is made possible by our collaborations with partners like bp and Neste.

The benefits are clear: With bp and Neste alone, we expect to save approx. two million tons of carbon dioxide emissions over the aviation fuel lifecycle. That equals the emissions of about 400,000 passenger vehicles! With that amount, we can fuel our approx. 1,000 flights per year between Cincinnati (USA) and Leipzig (Germany) for about 12 years!

We were the first global express courier to give customers the opportunity to use SAFs to reduce emissions. After the initial launch in the UK, we’re gradually expanding the service globally.

The real benefits of SAF







1,000 x 12


Source: Partnerships with bp and Neste

Participating in programs like United’s Eco-Skies Alliance and working together with trusted partners like Air France KLM Martinair Cargo, bp, and Neste, and IAG Cargo is one pillar of our carbon insetting strategy, which aims to reduce and neutralize the emissions where they are emitted. It also aligns perfectly with our plans to increase our use of SAFs to more than 30% by 2030. If others do the same, the supply of sustainable aviation fuel should increase rapidly, and the price should fall accordingly. 

Clean skies ahead

We can't create a lasting positive impact unless we follow a clear strategy. That's why our roadmap to sustainability focuses on meeting three key commitments: Clean operations for climate protection. Great company to work for all. Highly trusted company.

One company alone cannot scale up sustainable aviation fuel solutions and decarbonize air transport, but we can help lead the industry in the right direction. That’s why we’ve drawn a Sustainability Roadmap for our Mission 2050. By 2050, we aim to reduce all logistics-related emissions to zero. And we are well underway. Compared to 2007, we have improved our carbon efficiency by 37%. And we’re investing €7 billion through 2030 in clean operations to continuously reduce our carbon footprint.

Collaborating with committed partners and offering customers more sustainable solutions is all part of the plan – and each partnership is an all-important milestones on our own sustainability journey.

Updated: June 2023

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