Local sustainable aviation fuel production a major opportunity for South Africa

A report compiled for the World Wide Fund for Nature South Africa (better known than WWF SA) has concluded that the local production of sustainable aviation fuels (SAFs) would bring major economic and social, as well as environmental, benefits to the country. The report was compiled by the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research, Stellenbosch University’s Center for Process Engineering, Imperial Logistics, and Blue North Consulting. Financial support was provided by aerospace group Boeing. The research was undertaken last year.

“A domestic SAF industry could be a pillar of South Africa’s low-carbon economy, playing a key role in the just transition process,” stated the report. The country already had the “technical potential” to make 3.2-billion liters of SAF a year. Adding ‘green hydrogen’ to the SAF production process could increase this to 4.5-billion liters annually. “This is enough to replace the use of conventional jet-fuel domestically up to a maximum blending threshold of 1.2-billion liters per annum, while also providing 2[-billion to] 3.3-billion liters for export.”

The country had more than one pathway to develop large-scale domestic SAF production. These pathways are largely complimentary and so the country did not have to select which to follow, but could simultaneously pursue more than one option, or indeed all the options. “While all SAF is more expensive than conventional jet fuel, some of the assessed pathways are already competitive with the current international SAF price and several more could become competitive if the cost of capital for the processing facilities and/or the feedstock cost could be lowered through policy support or concessional funding.”

Creation of a full-scale domestic SAF production system could create more than 100,000 green jobs in South Africa, across the entire supply chain. Assuming the achievement of the greatest possible localization during the establishment of all the “promising” SAF production processes, the result would be the creation of 40,000 direct and 48,000 indirect construction jobs. Over the 20-year operating life of the SAF production facilities, 46,500 direct and 3,600 indirect jobs would be created.

Further, the essential countrywide feedstock and SAF supply chains would create nearly 7,500 jobs for truck drivers and more than 800 support jobs. Of the truck driver jobs, some 3 800 would be in coal mining areas and so could offset the loss of coal truck driver jobs which would happen as the country switched to cleaner energy sources.

“Reducing jet-fuel imports by developing a domestic SAF industry can improve South Africa’s balance of trade by R118-billion (US$7.9-billion) per annum,” highlighted the report. “Full export of all SAF would further improve the balance of trade, generating about R159.5-billion (US$10.6-billion) per annum from sales at the minimum sale price.”

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