Fuelling a Sustainable Future

posted on 20th September 2021
Fuelling a Sustainable Future

Avfuel is striding with confidence into a sustainable future, with expanded SAF distribution and a company-wide sustainability mindset, as it continues to meet its traditional promise of providing: ‘Fuel… and so much more’

It seems Avfuel can always be relied upon for good news, however dark the day. A steady stream of SAF (sustainable aviation fuel), branded FBO and other announcements from the Michigan-headquartered fuel supplier has kept editors happy and exemplified the industry’s determination to push on through troubled times.
Avfuel’s evolving, holistic approach to aviation fuel supply is evident through its website. ‘Sustainability’ is writ large across the homepage and only a few clicks are needed to reveal that, for a fuel company, Avfuel offers a surprisingly diverse range of services. Executive Vice President C.R. Sincock enthuses: “We like to say we provide ‘Fuel… and so much more’. That ‘so much more’ aspect is ever evolving and adapting to suit the needs of our customers. Our web presence is indicative of that and feels far different than even a year ago. We’ve added a slew of sustainability programmes – SAF, carbon offsetting, book and claim, and unleaded avgas – as well as a new price risk management programme and a greater concentration on the government and commercial customer segments.”

Before providing details on the company’s ambitious sustainability offer, Keith Sawyer, Avfuel’s Manager of Alternative Fuels, states: “We take our role in expanding SAF and sustainable solutions incredibly seriously. We have a responsibility to our industry and our communities to help make sustainable solutions attainable for the health and well-being of our world, promoting a cleaner, brighter future.”

He continues with an explanation of Avfuel’s book and claim programme. “It is the single-most effective way to make sustainable aviation fuel attainable for customers, no matter where they fly. At present, SAF production in the US is largely isolated in the west. Trucking fuel across the country is not only less efficient and more-costly due to the truck driver shortage, but it also affects the lifecycle emissions reductions benefit of SAF. Rather than moving the molecules, it makes more sense to move the accreditation.
“With book and claim, an operator can purchase SAF, the ‘claim’, wherever they’re flying, by paying the premium for SAF over jet fuel and, in return, receiving the credit for its use and applying it to their ESG [environmental, social and governance] scores, even though they can only uplift jet fuel. This SAF is taken off the book at an airport where the physical SAF molecules are held and being uplifted by an operator who’s simply paying for jet fuel and does not get to claim credit toward using SAF in their ESG scores. The entire system is conducted in a compliant manner so that the benefit of the SAF molecules can’t be double-counted. Only the SAF purchaser, no matter where they are based, receives credit for that SAF uplift’s emissions reductions.”

It is imperative that Avfuel, as a leading fuel supplier, takes the initiative on sustainability, but improving SAF availability is only a piece in the lager puzzle of driving aviation toward net zero. Avfuel is therefore helping its customers do more to reduce their net greenhouse gas emissions, through what C.R. Sincock describes as an ‘effective and efficient carbon offset programme’.

“Our customers can purchase carbon credits that invest in green projects, all meeting the strict requirements of either the UN or the Gold Standard. The programme is voluntary, but for a small additional per-gallon fee, we can help customers reach net zero and we are seeing growing interest in such sustainable solutions.”
Looking to extend its sustainability initiatives, Avfuel recently partnered with Jet Support Services, Inc (JSSI), providing its clients with direct access to sustainability tools. Sincock continues, “JSSI will provide online resources within its customer portal to facilitate the purchase of SAF through Avfuel. Furthermore, when reporting flight activity each month, JSSI’s maintenance programme clients can now choose to offset the carbon emissions associated with their flight hours through Avfuel’s Carbon Offset Program.”

SAF Story
Delving deeper into the SAF story, Sawyer explains: “It’s a common misconception that the benefit of SAF is at the point of fuel burn when, in actuality, the emissions reductions in the engine are minimal in comparison to jet fuel. The true benefit is along its entire lifecycle, from feedstock sourcing to wingtip. Depending on the feedstock, concentrated SAF has an emissions reduction of 70-80% compared to petroleum-based jet fuel across its lifecycle. When we look at the lifecycle, we’re starting with sustainable feedstock sourcing and refining, to blending the concentrated SAF with petroleum-based jet fuel and the mode of transportation, with some truck carriers now opting to run on renewable diesel fuel.”

Avfuel has what Sawyer calls ‘supply relationships’ with both Gevo, Inc and Neste, although it currently sources SAF from Neste’s Selby, California, facility and, occasionally, Houston, Texas. “These loads are typically an approximate 30:70 or 35:65 ratio of neat SAF to petroleum-based fuel,” he confirms, which seems at odds with the oft-quoted 50:50 blend certified for general use in the literature.

“The maximum blend ratio approved for manufacturing SAF is 50:50,” Sawyer explains, “but the maximum ratio we typically see out in the market is between 30:70 and 35:65, due to product availability and cost. As the supply situation stands, SAF continues to have a premium price compared to traditional jet fuel, but as supply and demand come in line, we anticipate the price difference to narrow.

“Avfuel’s supply of Neste MY Sustainable Aviation Fuel has one of the highest blend ratios consistently provided in the industry at approximately 30 to 35% neat SAF, which is an important delineation. There is no minimum ratio required; any jet fuel mixed with any level of SAF can be called SAF. So, for instance, when you’re comparing a 5:95 blend ratio with a 30:70 blend ratio, you’re not comparing apples to apples in terms of emissions reductions. It’s all SAF, but it’s not all equal. It’s important for customers to ask their fuel suppliers about the specifics of their SAF, including the emissions reductions benefits that come from the feedstock type and the final blend ratio, to have the full picture of emissions reductions.”

Through book and claim, Avfuel is delivering the benefits of SAF beyond the confines of production location. And, when it comes to actually filling aircraft fuel tanks with it, recent months have seen no shortage in Avfuel locations announcing SAF availability.

“It’s certainly been an exciting year!” Sawyer agrees. “By late August we’d announced consistent SAF supply at six branded FBOs so far this year, including Million Air Burbank (KBUR), Monterey Jet Center (KMRY), Sonoma Jet Center (KSTS), Telluride Regional Airport (KTEX), Truckee Tahoe Airport District (KTRK) and Atlantic Aviation in Aspen (KASE). This is in addition to limited inventory at Koury Aviation (KGSO), which became the first FBO on the Eastern Seaboard to provide SAF for resale to the general aviation consumer.”

Avfuel is also proud to provide a consistent supply to OEMs, Textron, Bell and Embraer, among them, as well as deliveries to Bombardier. Sawyer also reveals: “We are in discussions with Neste on expanding SAF reach in Europe and the UK.”

Future Energy
There is every likelihood that aircraft will be burning SAF for decades to come, but new energy sources are on the horizon, including electricity and hydrogen. Since Avfuel’s success to date is founded on supplying fuel, then its continuing success could be founded on supplying energy, whether from SAF, electricity or hydrogen. It’s a fact long recognised through the formation of Avfuel Technology Initiatives Corporation.
“We’re committed to investing in new technologies that move our industry forward,” C.R. Sincock states. “That’s why we created Avfuel Technology Initiatives Corporation in January 2012. Its mission is to further industry advancements, including bio and renewable fuels on several fronts, and no-lead avgas replacements, domestically and internationally. Avfuel Technology Initiatives Corporation also thinks through the logistics of market introduction, helping ensure any new product is sustainable, reliable, competitively priced and fairly accessible.

“We don’t have a crystal ball, but we do have a dedicated team working with researchers on the latest technologies; just as we support and lead initiatives on SAF and unleaded avgas, you can be sure we’re keeping our pulse on further technological advancements to better support the needs of our customers, our industry, our communities and our world.”

While C.R. Sincock mentions no-lead avgas, his father, Craig Sincock, President & CEO of Avfuel, enthuses: “The announcement during EAA AirVenture 2021 of GAMI’s G100UL receiving FAA approval via Supplemental Type Certificates (STC) with an Approved Model List (AML) of specific aircraft and engines was incredibly exciting! It has a far-reaching impact on the environment, and the vitality of aviation’s spark-ignition piston-powered aircraft and engine fleet.”

He comments on how unleaded avgas has been an ‘enigma’ for decades, while noting the exceptional achievement of the General Aviation Modifications, Inc (GAMI) team. “They committed to identifying a solution, flew under the radar and then shocked the industry with a viable unleaded option. We’re proud to collaborate with GAMI by providing our distribution expertise for G100UL.

“The new STCs represent the initial major milestone for bringing G100UL to market across North America. While GAMI focuses on expanding the AML, Avfuel will support the initiative by handling the logistics of product distribution, helping to establish a supply chain for responsibly bringing G100UL avgas to market on a commercial scale.”
Fuel and now sustainability remain the heart of Avfuel’s business, but it has always incentivised its customers through robust loyalty schemes. The Avfuel Contract Fuel and AVTRIP programmes continue to thrive but, at the same time, is it possible to incentivise sustainability? How can sustainability be incorporated into these time-tested programmes?

Marci Ammerman, Avfuel’s Vice President Marketing, explains: “The physical cards have always been optional. Customers don’t need to present a card to process transactions at the FBO because authorisations are sent electronically and member numbers can be looked up online. As we continue to look inward at opportunities to grow our company’s sustainability initiatives, everything is on the table for consideration. There’s been a mental shift to, ‘how can we execute this in a way that’s more sustainable?’ Sustainability has become a top-of-mind initiative, permeating throughout our business.”

To its credit, that mindset is permeating through Avfuel and back to helping its staff. “Over the years, we’ve provided employees with information regarding sustainability practices in the office and at home, including recycling materials, migrating documents to digital files to reduce waste, and avoiding plastic and paper usage in our dining and kitchen areas,” Ammerman says. “Furthermore, we reviewed our scope 1–3 emissions as an organisation with sustainability consultants.
“Toward this end, Avfuel is committed to offsetting its annual carbon emissions generated from scope 1 and 2 activities with carbon credits. This encompasses everything from the energy used on Avfuel’s campuses to the fuel we use for air travel. We’ll continue to analyse how we can reduce our direct emissions and we’re excited to promote a cleaner, brighter future by offsetting the emissions we generate through the use of carbon credits funding green initiatives that wouldn’t otherwise take place.”