SAF 101 – is SAF suitable for use in helicopters?

SAF 101 – is SAF suitable for use in helicopters?

25-Jul-2022 Source: Air bp

[by Air bp’s global head of sustainability, Andreea Moyes]

Is SAF suitable for use in helicopters?

With stakeholders across the aviation industry committed to decarbonising aviation, sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) will continue to play an important role in meeting the aviation industry’s carbon reduction targets. However, a question frequently asked is, whether SAF is suitable for use in helicopters?

Produced from renewable feedstocks, SAF chemistry features hydrocarbon molecules from those sustainable feedstocks rather than from traditional crude oil.  The final product is the same, fully approved jet fuel that can be used as a drop-in fuel. As such, any aircraft or rotorcraft certified for using the current specification of jet fuel is able to use SAF.

What is SAF?

Typical feedstocks used to make SAF include cooking oil and other waste oils from animals or plants; solid waste from homes and businesses, such as packaging, paper, textiles, and food scraps that would otherwise go to landfill or incineration. Other potential sources include forestry waste, such as waste wood and energy crops, including fast growing plants and algae.

Before being delivered to an airport, SAF is blended at up to 50% with traditional jet fuel and all quality tests are completed as per a traditional jet fuel. The blend is then re-certified as Jet A or Jet A-1. It can be handled in the same way as a traditional jet fuel, so no changes are required in the fuelling infrastructure or aircraft (including helicopters) wanting to use SAF. Using SAF could result in a reduction of up to 80% in carbon emissions compared to the fossil jet fuel it replaces over the lifecycle of the fuel, depending on the sustainable feedstock used, production method and the supply chain to an airport. Air bp was involved in fuelling the first SAF flight by an airline in February 2008 and since then we’ve been enabling ground-breaking test flights and investing in sustainable alternatives. To date, the company has supplied SAF to over 20 locations location across three continents. Its SAF has been used to fuel many different types of aircraft from small private jets to large passenger aircraft as well as helicopters.

In October 2021, Air bp collaborated with CHC Helicopter Service to provide SAF for its offshore helicopter flights operating out of Sola Airport in Stavanger, Norway. Following the Norwegian Government’s introduction of a 0.5% biofuel blending mandate for jet fuel in 2020, CHC Helicopter Service is now helping cut emissions further and contributing to achieving the Norwegian aviation industry’s goal of zero emissions by 2050. The helicopter operator is using SAF supplied at 35% for its helicopter flights to the Equinor, Vår Energi and Lundin gas and oil installations.

Helge Nesvåg, commercial director, CHC Helicopter Service, underlined his commitment to refuelling with SAF saying: “We want to show that the offshore helicopter sector takes the climate challenge seriously and is focused on increasing the use of biofuels. We are pleased to have the opportunity to demonstrate to key players in the industry that flying with 35% mixed biofuel is both a safe and more climate-friendly way to transport those who work on the shelf to and from the installations.”

At the end of 2021, Air bp also teamed up with helicopter operator, Bristow, to complete one of the first SAF-powered flights to an offshore operation in the UK Continental Shelf (UKCS). The S-92 helicopter flew from Aberdeen to installations operated by bp and the fuel supplier hopes to provide SAF to all Bristow clients in the future.

Matt Rhodes, Bristow’s director commented: “These first flights have given us the opportunity to demonstrate SAF’s capability and benefits in offshore transportation and are a great first step in our path to reducing carbon emissions. We’ve seen great enthusiasm for this initiative from colleagues across our business in our engineering, pilot and ground support teams and are proud to be able to take these first steps.”

So why isn’t SAF more widely used?

One of the biggest challenges preventing the wider uptake of SAF today is cost – it is currently more expensive than fossil jet fuel. That’s down to a combination of the current availability of renewable feedstocks and the continuing development of new production technologies. However, Air bp is working hard to create more demand in the short-term, which will lead to more production and hopefully lower costs for SAF in the future. As the technology matures it will become more efficient and the expectation is that the cost of SAF will reduce over time as a result. It is encouraging to note that as customers and their passengers increasingly recognise and value the benefits of the emission reductions, Air bp has seen an increased uptake of SAF from helicopter as well as fixed-wing customers. It’s important to note that while there is real commitment from the industry to reduce the impact of aviation on the environment, there is also a requirement for governments to create the right policies to accelerate the growth of SAF. Increasing production requires long-term policy certainty to reduce investment risks, as well as a focus on the research, development and commercialisation of improved production technologies and innovative renewable feedstocks.

In the meantime, Air bp remains committed to ensuring safe, reliable and sustainable fuelling services to all its customers. As such, the company began supplying SAF on an ongoing basis to German-based operator, ADAC Luftrettung at Cologne Bonn Airport in Germany for its Airbus H145 rescue helicopter in December 2021. ADAC Luftrettung operated the first rescue helicopter to fly on SAF and with safety and efficiency at the core of its operations.

Commenting on the collaboration ADAC Luftrettung’s managing director, Frédéric Bruder, remarked: “We want to be a pioneer in reducing CO2 in emergency medical services with environmentally friendly kerosene. Importantly, SAF is an officially approved fuel, which means that flight and patient safety remain at the highest level.”

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