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The Un-sustainability of Sustainable Aviation Fuel:

Meeting Details:

Next meeting: Dec 7th: 8pm Central


Question of the Week:

1) The airline industry is using sustainable aviation fuel as it's solution to sustainability. Is this going to work?



  • Faster Headlines

  • Meeting Times for Spring 2022

  • Student Org Fair / e-Bash

  • Professional Development


Faster Headlines

The Fresno Bee

Government Technology/ Los Angeles Times

Construction Dive

The Economist

Mass Transit

IEEE Spectrum

Construction Business News

New York Post

Business Insider

The Hill


The High Speed Rail Alliance...and Wisconsin:

Over the past year, the High Speed Rail Alliance in Chicago has been doing monthly online "Brown Bag" series, but here is an upcoming presentations that the group is especially interested in:

Friday, Dec 10th (noon) -

Wisconsin already has one of the nation’s most successful passenger rail lines: Amtrak’s Hiawatha, with frequent service between Milwaukee and Chicago. And residents are already using the Empire Builder to move around the state. But imagine if we went even further, developing a comprehensive, statewide network of fast, frequent and reliable trains serving Wisconsin, with high-speed rail at its core.

The session is on Zoom, and registration is free

Last week's webinar:

Missed last week's webinar? The High Speed Rail Alliance has made their webinar available on Youtube:


Infrastructure Update:

For the latest on the infrastructure, check out a dedicated webpage:


Feature: Why Sustainable Fuels are not Sustainable for the airline industry.

What make airline CEO's nervous? Well, if you read the airlines 10K annual reports, they list risks to their business. Overall and over, environment concerns and resulting new regulation is listed as a major fear. Here is a sample:

American Airlines 2020 10K, pg 45, Risks Factors Affecting Investors:

"We are subject to risks associated with climate change, including increased regulation of our CO emissions, changing consumer preferences and the potential increased impacts of severe weather events on our operations and infrastructure."

United Airlines 2020 10K Annual Report, pg 27, Risks Relating to Regulatory Compliance

"We are subject to many forms of environmental regulation and liability and risks associated with climate change, and may incur substantial costs as a


Delta Airlines 2020 10K Annual Report, pg 12

"The airline industry may face additional regulation of aircraft emissions in the U.S. and abroad and become subject to further taxes, charges or additional

requirements to obtain permits or purchase allowances or emission credits for greenhouse gas emissions in various jurisdictions. Additional regulation could result in taxation, regulatory or permitting requirements from multiple jurisdictions for the same operations and significant costs for us and the airline industry"

Southwest Airlines 2020 10K Annual Report, pg 20:

"Government efforts at the international, federal, state, or local levels to address worldwide climate change, manage greenhouse gas emissions, and reduce aircraft noise could affect aircraft operators, original equipment manufacturers, producers and sellers of aviation fuel, and other third parties on which the Company is dependent. Additional legislative or regulatory activity in this area could require modifications to the Company’s equipment, operations, and strategy, and have a material effect on the Company's capital expenditures, earnings, or competitive position."

So the airlines are nervous, if not scared. The solution the US airline industry has come up with is a goal to cap CO2 emissions at 2019 level, with some airlines such as United stating their goal is to have 0% C02 emissions by 2050.

So what’s the solution? Well, there is electric airplanes, hydrogen, and of course sustainable aviation fuel. Let's figure out why none of these solutions will actually work.

There has been talk about batteries and electric airplanes. However weight is of critical importance to an airliners. The more batteries, the more weight. The more weight, the more energy is needed, thus more batteries. It is an ever increasing cycle. Granted battery tech is getting close to allowing short regional flights with small airplane, but there is nothing on the horizon that would allow a Boeing 787 aircraft to fly 18 hours on battery power alone.

The even on short regional flights, batteries are not necessary the answer. An airplane does not make money sitting at a gate. That is why aircraft turn times are usually 25 to 45 minutes for small 50-70 seat jets. It's get the passengers and baggage off, clean, refuel, new passengers and bags on…and let’s go. Most airplanes do this for 10-14 hours a day. However, my Tesla would barely make it through the first 2 hr trip, before needing a multi-hour recharge…..and again that Tesla ain’t making money sitting recharging. That's the problem. An airplane cannot sit on the tarmac taking a multi-hour recharge in the middle of the day. It needs to keep moving (unlike my Telsa).

Of course, there is talk about hydrogen power. However, that has been discussed for decades. The problem here is we are not only talking about just the need for new engines, but all new air frames, new airport infrastructure, and all new certifications. Even if Airbus did soon announce a viable hydrogen aircraft type that they are developing, it will be at least a decade of development, followed by years of certification. The costs would be astronomical even if it proved successful. Airbus or Boeing would literally be betting the companies future on an unproven tech. I don’t think the shareholders would agree with such a decision…which leads to hydrogen being another dead end for the airlines 2050 goal.

So that leads us back to the so called savior of the airline industry…sustainable aviation fuels (called SAF). These are fuels made from corn, sugar cane or algae. You see a similar type of this fuel at the gas pump and its called…ethanol. Yep, the so called fuel made from corn that actually takes more energy to make then it actually provides. That's ethanol.

However, the easy part of SAF is that this fuel requires no new aircraft, or engines, or airport infrastructure, and just some manageable certification. That is why this has been the chosen savior of the industry because it is the fastest and simplest to implement. Of course, there is a problem…..and that is production capacity.

In 2019, the global airline industry consumed 106 billion jet fuel market in 2019 (according to the Energy Department Report, pg Vi) Within the US, over 18.3 billion gallons of jetfuel were were used in 2019. At the same time, only 2 MILLION gallons of SAF were produced in 2019 (pg vi). That is 00.007% of what is needed for US airlines alone.

That is like going to the gas station and filling up a 20 gallon tank, with just ½ of a tablespoon.

Yes, production could increase and become more efficient, but these sustainable fuels need to be farmed, not pumped out the ground. That means scaling won't be easy as a lot of land are resources will be needed to increase production to meet the needs of the airlines, or trucking industry, or railroads, or ships....afterall it's big, big transportation world. In fact just to meet the output at 2019 level, production would have to increase by factor 12,750 x in order just to meet the needs of the airline industry in 2019…and not the size of the airline industry in 2050 which is projected to be 230 billion gallons of jet fuel (page vi). So while SAF could be a small component it will not be the answer.

So going back, this leaves with airline industry with a long term problem. They don't have an answer to the climate problem...or do they? Hmm, maybe it's time they take their regional jets out of service and jump on the high speed electric train?

For additional Information on SAF Aviation fuels, the Department of Energy's Sustainable Aviation Fuel Report is where this data originated from


NASA and Flying without Wings

Back in June, NASA announced its own goals to reduce aviation carbon emissions by half in 2050 compared to 2005, and achieve net-zero emissions by 2060.

So how are they going about doing this:

  • New air traffic management automation

  • first-ever high-power hybrid-electric propulsion on a large transport aircraft,

  • Ultra-high efficiency long and slender aircraft wings

  • New large-scale manufacturing techniques of composite materials

  • Advanced engine technologies based on breakthrough NASA innovation

However, it looks like NASA has forgotten that it's also possible to fly without wings. So Doctor Yellow needs to bring his Maglev to NASA, and remind them what the future of aviation will most likely look like.

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