Aviation consortium launched to fuel flight to net zero

This week’s Farnborough International Airshow has signalled the launch of a new initiative in which a leading university is looking to create a global corporation to drive the move to sustainable aviation fuels.

Boeing revealed it has become became the founding member of the University of Sheffield’s Energy Innovation Centre (EIC), leading the way for the company to help develop and bring SAF to the market.

The EIC includes the Sustainable Aviation Fuels Innovation Centre (SAF-IC), a first-of-its-kind facility in the UK that will help test and certify new sustainable aviation fuels (SAF), and the Translational Energy Research Centre (TERC), which will contain pilot-scale production facilities suitable for investigating different methods of producing SAF.

“In order for the aviation industry to meet its net zero carbon emissions commitment by 2050 it will take all of us collaborating and investing in scientific research and testing,” said Brian Moran, Boeing’s vice president of Global Sustainability Policy and Partnerships. “We are honoured to partner with the University of Sheffield on the UK’s first major SAF hub, which highlights our global commitment to developing SAF as a safe, proven, near-term solution to decarbonise aviation.”

The EIC added: “SAF offers the most immediate and greatest potential to decarbonise aviation over the next 20 to 30 years. Sustainably produced jet fuel reduces CO2 emissions by as much as 80 percent over the fuel’s lifecycle with the potential to reach 100 percent in the future. Made from several feedstocks, SAF is certified for commercial use and can be blended by up to 50 percent with traditional jet fuel without modifications to airplanes, engines or fuelling infrastructure. Boeing has committed to deliver its commercial airplanes capable and certified to fly on 100 percent SAF by 2030.”

The EIC is located in the University of Sheffield Innovation District, home to the Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (AMRC). Boeing founded the AMRC with the university in 2001.

“Boeing has a long history in South Yorkshire, having set up the AMRC to drive innovation in aerospace manufacturing, and subsequently opening our first European manufacturing site here,” said Sir Martin Donnelly, president of Boeing Europe and managing director of Boeing in the UK and Ireland. “This opportunity to build upon our existing partnerships with Sheffield and to build new ones, while also working toward a more sustainable future for aviation, is a great privilege for us.”

The EIC is funded, in part, by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy’s Energy Innovation Programme.

“This partnership, backed by £7 million government funding, will help accelerate the development of cleaner, fuel efficient flight,” Energy Minister Greg Hands MP said. “This will be vital as we work to end our dependency on volatile fossil fuels, to strengthen our energy security and slash emissions.”

Aviation minister Robert Courts MP added: “This new partnership is a great opportunity to boost the use of sustainable aviation fuels. The University of Sheffield has two of the world’s greatest research facilities which Boeing, and hopefully many more, can now use – a crucial step towards a jet zero future. Decarbonising the aviation industry remains one of the Government’s top priorities, and earlier this year we set out plans for the first transatlantic flight powered by sustainable aviation fuel to take to the skies in 2023.”

The University of Sheffield is one of Boeing’s six partner universities in the United Kingdom, where it has 3,000 employees and spends £2 billion in the supply chain each year.

“At a time when the UK’s commitment to net zero is questioned and debated, R&D into low carbon technologies and products couldn’t be more important,” professor Koen Lamberts, president and vice-chancellor of the University Sheffield. “We are delighted to welcome Boeing as a founding partner of the University of Sheffield Energy Innovation Centre. Our partnership with Boeing spans over 20 years, and together we are committed to developing the type of innovation needed to address some of the world’s most pressing challenges.”

Members of the EIC will have access to a platform to prove, test, develop and optimise new technology and ideas, and up-scale and develop technology on a cost-effective basis before investing in commercial-scale testing or production. The membership programme is open to industrial partners of any size, from SMEs to multinational corporations.

“We are thrilled to welcome Boeing as our first member of the Energy Innovation Centre scheme,” said professor Mohamed Pourkashanian, managing director of the TERC and the SAF-IC, and head of the Energy Institute, “The EIC has an impact strategy built around delivering societal and economic benefit through rigorous research with industry, and this connection with Boeing takes a step towards making that aim a reality, especially in the exciting and vital realm of sustainable flight.”