Boeing's CEO warns that climate-friendly biofuels will never reach the price of jet fuel

June 2nd, 2023
Milton Steagall's Opinion

Check out Milton Steagall's viewpoint on the Financial Times interview with Boeing's CEO about biofuels and international market prices.

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Summary of the story:

Boeing's CEO warns that climate-friendly biofuels will never reach the price of jet fuel

The Boeing chief warned that new climate-friendly biofuels "will never catch up with the price of jet fuel," throwing cold water on a central pillar of the aviation industry's strategy to reduce emissions.

Viewpoint of Milton Steagall, CEO of Grupo BBF:

A New Era for Biofuels: The Solution from Grupo BBF (Brasil BioFuels)

In response to the recent news story published by the Financial Times, in which Boeing CEO Dave Calhoun questions the viability of sustainable aviation fuels (SAFs) achieving price parity with traditional fuels, I would like to bring a different and inspiring perspective. At Grupo BBF (Brasil BioFuels), we believe in the potential of sustainable SAF production and are ready to take on the challenge of decarbonizing aviation. The data presented in the news is clear: SAFs still represent less than 1% of global aviation consumption and are traded at considerably higher prices. Nevertheless, it is important to look beyond these figures and understand the immense potential and environmental benefits that biofuels bring. Decarbonization is a challenge that goes beyond the question of costs. It is an urgent necessity in order to combat climate change, protect our planet and guarantee a sustainable future for the next generations.

Grupo BBF is excelling in this area, with innovation and pioneering spirit. We work with the production of sustainable palm oil in the Amazon, specifically in areas that have already been degraded and are not used for food crops. In this way, we are able to produce a more competitive and sustainable SAF. Palm oil, in particular, does not require pre-treatment, consumes less hydrogen and can therefore be produced at a lower cost. The availability of vegetable oil for the transition is indeed an important issue. The raw materials currently used for the production of SAFs, such as food waste, will be rapidly depleted as demand for the fuel increases. However, palm oil production offers a sustainable solution to this problem. Brazil is unique in terms of its biodiversity and climatic conditions, which is why it has such an important role to play in this transition. With an arable area of 66.3 million hectares (FAO, 2022) and a favourable climate, Brazil has the potential to supply the amount of vegetable oil important for decarbonizing the aviation sector.

In addition, data from the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO, 2022) indicates that the demand for aviation fuel could reach 1.8 billion tons by 2040. The production of SAF from palm oil could therefore play a significant role in meeting this growing demand, while at the same time contributing to the reduction of emissions. It is true that we are still at the beginning of a long journey and that there are significant challenges to overcome. However, Brasil BioFuels is committed to its mission of offering sustainable and competitive solutions to the aviation sector. We believe in the potential of SAFs and are confident that, with the right combination of policies, innovation and cooperation, we can overcome the obstacles and make a significant contribution to a greener and more sustainable future.

Understanding the importance of data to substantiate arguments, it is relevant to point out that according to the Financial Times itself, the price of sustainable aviation fuel in the U.S. closed at $6.83 per gallon, while jet fuel cost $2.34. This, no doubt, presents a challenge. However, it is essential to note that economic and technological trends are changing rapidly. Innovations and advances in biofuel production have the potential to significantly reduce these costs. The Biden administration, for example, has proposed a "grand challenge" to the industry to produce 3 billion gallons per year of SAF by 2030, a significant increase from the current 16 million. Government support and assistance, such as the Inflation Reduction Act tax credits, can help the industry overcome short-term investment obstacles, but they have an expiration date.

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) has also set an ambitious target to achieve net zero emissions by 2050, with SAFs accounting for 65% of the reduction. This target implies a substantial increase in demand for SAFs, and Brazil is ideally placed to meet this demand. With an available and previously degraded area of 31 million hectares and growing sustainable palm oil production, Brazil has the potential to produce large quantities of SAFs in a sustainable way. According to a study by the University of São Paulo (USP, 2022), a well-managed oil palm plantation can yield up to 6 tons of oil per hectare per year. This means that, theoretically, if all the arable land was used, Brazil could produce more than 186 million tons of palm oil per year. Of course, this is a hypothetical scenario, but it clearly demonstrates Brazil's extraordinary potential for SAF production. This data, when combined with technology and innovation, such as Boeing's "Cascade" modeling tool, which helps evaluate decarbonization methods, reinforces our inspiring vision of a future in which SAFs play a central role in sustainable aviation. We still have a long way to go, but the journey has begun, and we at Grupo BBF are proud to be part of it.

*Milton Steagall is CEO of Grupo BBF.

icon of Milton Steagall CEO - Grupo BBF
Milton Steagall
CEO of Grupo BBF