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SWISS becomes first commercial airline to fly from Switzerland with sustainable aviation fuel

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SWISS is investing billions in ever-more-economical aircraft, which is the most effective lever for ensuring optimum flying efficiency. But this alone is not enough to limit the overall ecological impact of air transport activities. That’s why SWISS is actively and emphatically committed, through various projects, to ensuring the increasing availability of sustainable alternative aviation fuels. It’s also why SWISS has now become the first commercial airline to fly from Switzerland with sustainable aviation fuel.

With a view to using its resources on the ground as sparingly as possible and to reducing its own carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, SWISS has set itself two ambitious ecological objectives: to halve its CO2 emissions from their 2019 level by 2030, and to achieve net-zero CO2 emissions by 2050. Its most effective lever in working towards these goals is operating more advanced and more economical aircraft like the Airbus A32Xneo family and the Airbus A220. Each new generation of aircraft that is developed generates up to 25% less CO2 emissions than its predecessor. But this alone is not enough to lower CO2 emissions overall, because the air transport sector will continue to grow in the medium-term future. It will continue to need aircraft fuel, too. And this is where sustainable aviation fuel or SAF comes in. 

Manufacturing and supply processes of alternative fuels

SAF: the key to carbon-neutral flying

The path to ‘carbon-neutral’ flying is an ambitious but not an impossible one. Aviation is still a long way away from electric or hydrogen-powered aircraft of any commercial size. The main obstacles here are the low energy density of batteries and the fact that it is still extremely difficult to store large volumes of hydrogen in technological terms. SAF, by contrast, is a genuine alternative to fossil jet fuel that can be easily used for aircraft. And alongside aircraft with latest-generation technologies, SAF represents air transport’s most important step on its journey into a sustainable future.

SWISS has been working with and within the Lufthansa Group for several years now to promote research into and the trialling and adoption of sustainable aviation fuels. Together with Lufthansa, SWISS is also one of the first airlines in the world to offer customers the option of lowering their CO2 emissions via sustainable aviation fuel: since 2019, SWISS travellers have been able to buy SAF via the Compensaid platform when booking their flight, to reduce the environmental impact of their air travel activities.

SWISS becomes first commercial airline to use SAF from Switzerland

Thanks to new Swiss customs provisions that came into effect on 1 July, SAF can now be imported to Switzerland, too. As a result, SWISS is now proud to be the first commercial airline to use SAF in its scheduled flight operations from Switzerland – thanks in no small part to the ecological commitment of its customers via the Compensaid programme.

To turn these aspirations into reality, SWISS first had to team up with various partner companies to establish an end-to-end logistics chain for importing the SAF concerned. The first SWISS SAF delivery amounts to 460 tonnes, which, thanks to the state-of-the-art technologies of its aircraft such as the Airbus A32Xneo family, is mathematically sufficient to fuel some 175 flights.

What is SAF?

SAF is a synthetic kerosene that represents the first genuine alternative to fossil jet fuel. SAF is manufactured using a process that is particularly sparing on resources. Various production procedures have been certificated here. But what is particular about them all is that they involve extracting carbon for re-use from existing sustainable biomass or gases and transforming it into fuel. These fuels can then be used instead of fuels that have been refined from crude oil.

The SAF used by SWISS, which is produced by Finnish biofuel manufacturer and SWISS partner Neste, is currently made primarily from waste and residue raw materials. In its pure form, and viewed over its full life cycle, the use of this SAF can reduce CO2 emissions by up to 80 per cent compared to fossil fuels.

Why not use SAF on all SWISS flights?

To date, the adoption of SAF throughout the airline industry has foundered on the volumes of such alternative fuels available and their high costs, because few refineries in the world are currently able to produce certificated SAF and (if so) in adequate quantities. So a next step must be to scale-up this still very expensive production, to bring the price of SAF down closer to those of fossil jet fuels. This is why it is vitally important to promote both the expansion of the present SAF production capacities and the development of various SAF manufacturing procedures.  

Is carbon-neutral air travel already possible today?

In the course of booking their flight, SWISS customers are offered the option of offsetting their CO2 emissions of their flight – if they wish. Customers can do this directly when booking on swiss.com by purchasing sustainable fuel, known as Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF), or by investing in carbon offset projects of the renowned Swiss foundation myclimate. A mix of both is also possible. See here.

If customers offset all or part of the fuel consumption with SAF, the same amount of sustainable fuel will be used on future flights within Lufthansa Group and thus directly contributes to a more sustainable aviation industry today. In the actual fuelling process, the SAF involved will be added into the conventional kerosene as so-called ‘drop-in fuel’.

For a Zurich-New York flight, for instance, the total volume of SAF that has been bought by its passengers will be fed into the airport’s fuelling system. This means that the SAF concerned will be distributed among all the flights that are subsequently fuelled. But the carbon offset made by each customer will still be wholly attributed to their particular flight. If customers decide to compensate fully or partly through the climate project portfolio of myclimate, they will support certified projects of the renowned Swiss foundation myclimate.

What are possible solutions for tomorrow?

Promising innovations are based on renewable energy. Even better in environmental terms is SAF that is manufactured using the power-to-liquid (PtL) or the sun-to-liquid (StL) process, both of which produce fuels that are almost totally carbon-neutral.

SWISS is particularly keen to support the development of solar fuels, and has embarked on a partnership with the Swiss-based clean-tech company Synhelion, which is a global pioneer in the field.

Synhelion has developed a key technology for manufacturing sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) from renewable energy sources. The unique procedure uses concentrated solar heat to manufacture syngas which can then be synthesized into kerosene using standard industrial processes. Such sun-to-liquid jet fuel only releases as much CO2 when combusted as went into its manufacture.

The world’s first facility for the industrial production of solar fuel will open this summer 2022 in Jülich, Germany. SWISS is supporting Synhelion in bringing its new fuel to market, and will thereby become the first airline in the world to use such solar kerosene.