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Quantifying the Challenges of Adopting Sustainability Criteria for Biofuel Production

This case study examines the challenges associated with certifying the production of sustainable alternative fuels (SAFs) for the commercial aviation sector.

Through interviews with producers who underwent certification for sustainable practices, a literature review on sustainability standards and certification processes, and personal communication with professionals from the aviation industry and academia, this study highlights four major issues:

  1. The lack of further flexibility and adaptation of some environmental and social indicators to local conditions may act as a barrier to the process of certification.
  2. The failure to guarantee an established sizeable market or deliver a price premium for certified SAFs is limiting wider adoption of sustainability standards.
  3. The process of certification for sustainable practices appears simpler for producers who rely on non-agricultural or non-forest wastes for their production processes.
  4. Many difficulties in compliance arise from the lack of experience of auditors certifying against a fairly new certification scheme with unique social requirements.

To ensure the availability of adequate volumes of SAFs for the aviation industry and long-term economic viability, future research should consider supporting the development of SAFs made from non-agricultural or non-forest wastes. Feedstocks like most industrial waste gases and municipal solid waste exhibit particular promise in light of their reduced environmental and social impacts, as well as lower operating costs than biofuels manufactured from agricultural and forest resources (including waste biomass).

Future research should concentrate on: identifying the challenges presented by the global sourcing of certified SAFs; evaluating customers’ appreciation and expectations about sustainable flying and finding a suitable claim that airlines can make on the use of certified SAFs matching those perceptions; and developing an online commercial platform to facilitate trade of certified SAFs to extend their use worldwide.

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