How to successfully scale up SAF solutions

Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF) is currently the best option for reducing aviation emissions, but the high cost remains a big barrier to widespread adoption. Partners across the aviation value chain are joining forces to fund the purchase of SAF and help decarbonize the transportation sector. 

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 370,000 flights have used SAF since 2016, but it still accounts for only about 0.01% 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. Most 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

The problem is we need SAF right now because there are few real alternatives. Limiting global warming to well below 2°C, as outlined in the Paris Agreement, and increasing ambitions to limit it to 1.5°C compared to pre-industrial times, 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 the majority of emissions. And hydrogen power is not mature enough to replace jet engines in larger aircraft. Right now, SAF is the best option we have to scale up sustainable aviation fuel solutions and reduce air transport emissions.

How can we solve this problem? The answer is by joining forces with like-minded companies and organizations. Led by the World Economic Forum (WEF), the Clean Skies for Tomorrow Coalition (CST) brings stakeholders together across and beyond the aviation value chain to align on a transition to SAF and ultimately achieve carbon-neutral flying. The project is part of the WEF’s Shaping the Future of Mobility platform. In 2021, the WEF, in collaboration with PwC Netherlands and RMI, released a white paper introducing the sustainable aviation fuel certificate (also known as SAF certificate or SAFc) as a workable solution to drive a voluntary market that will unlock new revenue and accelerate SAF production capacity. 

We joined United Airlines’ Eco-Skies Alliance program to test the SAF certificate concept utilizing a ‘book and claim’ system and help fund the purchase of SAF. More recently, we launched a three-year cooperation with Air France KLM Martinair Cargo to purchase 33 million liters of sustainable aviation fuel.

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.

How do sustainable aviation fuel certificates work?

SAFc is modeled after energy attribute certificates (EACs), which helped enable the power of markets to drive change and accelerate demand for renewable energy. 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. 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). All this will lead to more investment in SAFs and ultimately scale up sustainable aviation fuel solutions.

What is ‘book and claim’?

A sustainable aviation fuel certificate is a virtual solution to a physical problem. It’s nearly impossible to track the journey of SAFs from production to the airplane – and creating a separate, end-to-end supply chain for SAFs would be an extremely costly logistical nightmare. 

‘Book and claim’ is a digital system used to track and transfer the emissions reductions from sustainable fuels across the value chain. By buying and selling SAFc, companies can own SAF attributes without physically tracing the fuel through the supply chain. 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.

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The Eco-Skies Alliance program

To take advantage of this potentially game-changing model, DHL Global Forwarding joined United Airlines’ Eco-Skies Alliance. This first-of-its-kind program allows us to reduce our environmental impact and help make sustainable aviation the norm. Together with our alliance partners, we purchased the emissions reductions from 3.4 million gallons (12.87 million liters) of SAF in 2021. That eliminated about 31,000 metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions on a lifecycle basis, compared to the use of conventional jet fuel.

The purchased SAF is blended with United’s 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.

Participating in the Eco-Skies Alliance program is one pillar of our carbon insetting strategy, which aims to reduce and neutralize the emissions where they are emitted. The alliance also aligns perfectly with our plans to increase our use of SAFs to more than 30% by 2030 and thereby help scale up sustainable aviation fuel solutions in the transportation sector.

3.4 million


31,000 tons


Collaborating with committed partners

In another step towards sustainable air freight, we are leveraging our long-standing partnership with Air France KLM Martinair Cargo to purchase even more sustainable aviation fuels. Over the next three years, we’ll purchase 33 million liters of SAF using our ‘book and claim’ system, which ensures that reductions in Scope 3 emissions are attributed to our customers. We expect the partnership to save 80,000+ tons of carbon emissions.

Like United Airlines, Air France KLM Martinair Cargo is one of DHL Global Forwarding’s key carriers – and one of the leaders in our GoGreen carrier evaluation program. We utilize the program to evaluate the environmental performance of our partner carriers and give preference to those that score high marks.

Clean operations for climate protection

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.

At DHL, we understand that we alone cannot scale up sustainable aviation fuel solutions and decarbonize air transport, but we can help lead the industry to a sustainable future. Partnerships like these are part of our Sustainability Roadmap and Mission 2050. By working with like-minded partners, we will achieve our goals based on the Science Based Target Initiative (SBTi). We aspire to be a leader in sustainable aviation, which is why we will increase the blend of SAF in our operations to over 30% by 2030 and invest €7 billion through 2030 in clean operations. 

By 2050, we aim to reduce all logistics-related emissions to zero. And we are well underway. Compared to 2007, we have already improved our carbon efficiency by 37%. Our alliance with United Airlines and partnership with Air France KLM are just two ways we are doing our part to scale up sustainable fuel solutions and mark further milestones on this journey.

Published: July 2021

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