Photo credits @ Kuehne+Nagel

World’s first transatlantic flight powered by 100% sustainable fuel completed

Sustainable aviation fuel can be a safe and effective drop-in replacement for traditional fossil-based jet fuel, as demonstrated by the Flight100 project, which last week saw the world's first transatlantic flight powered by 100% sustainable aviation fuel land in New York.

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On 28 November 2023, the world’s first 100% Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF) transatlantic flight by a commercial airline successfully landed at New York JFK after departing from London Heathrow, announced Kuehne+Nagel, which secured the available cargo space on the flight and used the appropriate amount of SAF for the cargo transported.

The trial was part of the Flight100 project led by Virgin Atlantic and partially supported by the British Department for Transport, including the Imperial College London, University of Sheffield, Boeing, Rolls-Royce, BP, and other stakeholders. The initiative aims to showcase Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF) as a viable alternative to conventional jet fuel.

SAF, made from waste products, delivers CO2 lifecycle emissions savings of up to 70%, whilst performing like the traditional jet fuel it replaces, the experts of the project state.

“While other technologies such as electric and hydrogen remain decades away, SAF can be used now. Today, SAF represents less than 0.1% of global jet fuel volumes and fuel standards allow for just a 50% SAF blend in commercial jet engines. Flight100 will prove that the challenge of scaling up production is one of policy and investment, and industry and government must move quickly to create a thriving UK SAF industry,” Imperial College London explains.

As well as proving the capabilities of SAF, Flight100 assessed how its use affects the flight’s non-carbon emissions with the support of consortium partners ICF, Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI), Imperial College London and University of Sheffield. 

The research is to improve scientific understanding of the effects of SAF on contrails and particulates and help to implement contrail forecasts in the flight planning process. Data and research will be shared with industry, and Virgin Atlantic will continue its involvement with contrail work through RMI’s Climate Impact Task Force, which is part-funded by Virgin Unite.

The SAF used on Flight100 is a unique dual blend; 88% HEFA (Hydroprocessed Esters and Fatty Acids) supplied by AirBP and 12% SAK (Synthetic Aromatic Kerosene) supplied by Virent, a subsidiary of Marathon Petroleum Corporation. The HEFA is made from waste fats while the SAK is made from plant sugars, with the remainder of plant proteins, oil and fibres continuing into the food chain. SAK is needed in 100% SAF blends to give the fuel the required aromatics for engine function. To achieve Net Zero 2050, the innovation and investment needed across all available feedstocks and technologies must be harnessed to maximise SAF volumes as well as continue the research and development needed to bring new zero-emission aircraft to market.