The Biden administration has instructed the Department of Defense to use funding on initiatives related to expanding the use of sustainable aviation fuels (SAF) and increasing new and legacy aircraft efficiencies to decrease aviation emissions. 

The new actions were released by the White House on Sept. 9 and include broad government-wide measures focused on increasing the domestic production and utilization of SAF with the goal of producing three billion gallons of SAF per year and reducing emissions by 20 percent by 2030 while also creating new union jobs. The actions will create a new Sustainable Aviation Fuel Grand Challenge, invest up to $4.3 billion in new and ongoing funding to support SAF, increase research and development opportunities to improve aircraft efficiency, boost aircraft traffic and airport efficiency, and work to strengthen U.S. leadership internationally and domestically. 

Aviation emissions account for 11 percent of U.S. transportation emissions and will likely increase in the coming years, according to the White House. SAF is made from renewable sources or waste feedstocks and has lower lifecycle GHG emissions than traditional fuels. SAF has been seen as a leading solution by the aviation industry because it requires no aircraft modifications to be used. Currently, aircraft are allowed to run on a 50 percent blend of SAF and Jet A.

The White House states that the current domestic production of SAF is about 4.5 million gallons per year. This new goal of three billion gallons per year from the Biden administration will have to increase production in the U.S. significantly to be successful. For its part in this effort, the Defense Department will allocate funds to create more SAF pathways for its aircraft including approving four pathways already approved in the commercial market and creating an ASTM approval pipeline for SAF pathways for warfighters. This action is subject to appropriations. 

The DoD will also participate in efforts to increase research and development for technologies that can increase aircraft fuel efficiency. The agency will not only work to develop new aircraft that are more energy-efficient, but it will also increase efficiencies on its legacy aircraft. According to the White House, examples of these projects include almost $900 million for the Air Force B-52 Commercial Engine Replacement Program, Army Improved Engine Turbine Program, Adaptive Engine Transition Program and Next-Generation Adaptive Propulsion Program, and Air Force Legacy Aircraft Drag Reduction Program.

“The Administration is committed to transforming the aviation sector in a way that creates good-paying union jobs in manufacturing, improves the environmental quality for airport and airline workers, and unlocks rural economic opportunity for sustainable fuels from many different feedstocks and pathways,” the White House statement said. “Taking these and other steps in concert with the aviation sector can drive innovation and support a growing market for cleaner fuels, while reducing and eventually eliminating aviation’s climate impact.”

The new plan includes executive actions across the Department of Energy, Transportation, Agriculture, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), the General Services Administration (GSA), and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). This plan will work with Biden’s Build Back Better Agenda that is working through Congress to create jobs while addressing climate change. The Build Back Better Agenda also includes a SAF tax credit that will provide incentives for fuel using SAF that reduces GHG life cycle emissions by at least 50 percent. The administration will also be releasing an aviation climate action plan in the coming months.