Warning: Aviation Puns Ahead

If you haven’t heard of Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF) in the last year, you may have your head in the clouds. SAF is an exciting new market for corn growers, if we can get the legislation right.

First of all: What is SAF? In short, SAF is an alternative to petroleum-based fuels than can be blended with traditional jet fuel to lower the greenhouse gas emissions of air travel. SAF can be made of a few different feedstocks, but the front-runners are currently corn, soybeans, and sugarcane.

Demand for SAF from fuel companies is high and on the rise. In fact, the federal government expects America to need 3 billion gallons by 2030. And 174 billion gallons are the expected demand for global jet fuel in 2050. You read that right. Billion with a b.

This is the largest opportunity for your corn since ethanol plants came to Ohio (thanks to the Ohio Corn Checkoff, by the way).

Several groups want SAF to take flight. The airlines want to lower their greenhouse gas emissions, the Biden administration wants to show progress to the environmentalists, and corn growers want to sell more corn. Even the European Union is getting in on this market. So what’s the problem?

The thing is, there is debate on how to measure the sustainability of different feedstocks. The sustainability has to be measured in a uniform way for companies to qualify for different tax credits. There are a few different models being used, and not all are favorable to corn. That’s why we need the U.S. government to adopt the Greenhouse gases, Regulated Emissions, and Energy use in Technologies (GREET) model.

On top of that, SAF is not cost-effective to produce. In fact, it’s 2-4x more expensive to make than regular jet fuel. The industry has a ways to go in increasing efficiency and lowering production cost. One way to do that is for ethanol plants to qualify for tax credits based on the sustainability scores of the ethanol they produce.

Clearly, it’s a twisted web of different sectors relying on each other. But at the end of the day, corn farmers are at the base of the solution. The Ohio Corn Marketing Program is leading a Strike Team to better understand SAF, what it means for corn farmers, and what steps we need to take.

We will keep you updated with more information as it becomes available.