Etihad Airways joins UAE-led consortium Air-CRAFT to research renewable and advanced aviation fuels

21 November 2023, 11:00 AM
Etihad Airways joins UAE-led consortium Air-CRAFT to research renewable and advanced aviation fuels
  • The consortium, Air-CRAFT, is supported by the UAE Ministry of Energy and Infrastructure and UAE General Civil Aviation Authority, and comprises eight founding entities: ADNOC, Boeing, Emirates, ENOC Group, Etihad, Honeywell, Khalifa University, Masdar

Dubai, UAE, 20 November 2023 – In the UAE Year of Sustainability, and at the 3rd ICAO Conference on Aviation and Alternative Fuels (CAAF/3) was held in Dubai, eight founding entities announced the launch of the “Air-CRAFT” initiative - a UAE based research consortium focused on developing, producing, and scaling sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) technologies.

Air-CRAFT, or the UAE Centre for Renewable and Advanced Fuel Technologies for Aviation, is a first-of-its-kind initiative that will bring together entities across the value chain – industrial policy makers, aviation regulators, fuel producers, academia and researchers, aircraft and powerplant manufacturers, and airline operators. While based in the UAE, the consortium will also engage with, and welcome the participation of relevant international entities as it progresses. The new initiative was announced on the sidelines of CAAF/3 today and ahead of COP28.

Air-CRAFT is supported by the UAE Ministry of Energy and Infrastructure. “The aviation sector holds great importance as a key contributor to the GDP and as a target sector for our robust decarbonization drive,” said His Excellency Suhail Mohamed Al Mazrouei, Minister of Energy and Infrastructure. “The UAE has committed to reaching net zero by 2050, and this goal can only be achieved by slashing the emissions across the board. Air-CRAFT will go a long way in supporting the decarbonization of the aviation sector, helping to make it resilient and sustainable well into the future.”

His Excellency Abdulla bin Touq Al Marri, Minister of Economy of the UAE and Chairman of the GCAA said: Introducing 'Air-CRAFT' at CAAF3 in Dubai emphasizes the UAE's commitment to accelerate sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) production, uniting government, private sector, and academia for a collective push toward sustainable aviation practice”. Bin Touq adds, “Aligned with the net-zero emissions goal by 2050, this consortium, the largest and most unique in the SAF industry, represents a substantial stride towards greener aviation future, and we look forward to making a significant positive impact through it”.

The collaboration is in support of the UAE’s National SAF Roadmap principles and the commercial aviation industry’s goal of net zero emissions by 2050. At CAAF/3 today, senior representatives from the eight consortium entities signed a strategic collaboration agreement to kickstart the Air-CRAFT initiative.

Potential research topics at Air-CRAFT include environmental impact assessments, feedstock and process optimization, and techno-economic assessments. Air-CRAFT will also establish relevant links with other academic and research institutions in the UAE and internationally.

The U.S. government supports Air-CRAFT being linked to the intergovernmental US-UAE ‘Partnership to Accelerate Transition to Clean Energy’ (PACE) agreement.

The consortium’s industrial and institutional partners will provide market demand, expertise, and technology to support research into the production of alternative fuels for the aviation sector, and extends an open invitation to UAE and international entities to join the consortium. Air-CRAFT is already in advanced discussions with key and strategic global players to be announced in due course.

Hanan Balalaa, Senior Vice President, New Energies, ADNOC, said: “The world needs to accelerate the pace of progress towards net zero and this requires us to decarbonize core sectors such as aviation. Collaboration and innovation will be key to addressing all emissions and ADNOC is already working with our customers to help them transition to new energies. The launch of Air-CRAFT supports this objective and we look forward to working with our partners to unlock sustainable aviation fuel technologies that can decarbonize the sector faster.”

Brian Moran, vice president, Global Sustainability Policy and Partnerships at Boeing, said: “Scaling SAF is central to aviation achieving its net zero commitment by the middle of the century. Building a thriving local SAF economy requires collaboration across the value chain and we are honoured to have helped catalyse and now work with this esteemed group on Air-CRAFT to further spark SAF innovation in the UAE and beyond.”

Sheikh Majid Al Mualla, Divisional Senior VP for International Affairs, Emirates Airline, said: “Emirates supports initiatives that contribute to the deployment of SAF. We’ve contributed to the development of the UAE’s National SAF Roadmap and power-to-liquids fuel roadmaps, and believe the UAE is uniquely placed to lead in this space with its policies, technology and infrastructure capabilities. We see Air-CRAFT as a solid platform to progress the National SAF roadmap into reality, and we are proud to be one of the launch entities.”

His Excellency Saif Humaid Al Falasi, Group CEO at ENOC, said: “We are proud to join hands with key industry leaders in launching Air-CRAFT, a ground-breaking initiative that underscores our commitment to advancing sustainable aviation fuels. Through collaborative research and innovation, we aim to propel the aviation industry towards a greener future, aligning with the UAE's vision and unwavering pursuit of sustainability and environmental stewardship.”

Mohammad Al Bulooki, Chief Operating Officer, Etihad Airways, said“Etihad applauds the development and assembly of the Air-CRAFT MoU and stands proudly alongside our partners for this announcement. For more than a decade, Etihad has committed to pioneering the development of SAF supply chains in the UAE and beyond, and since 2019, with the deployment of the Etihad Boeing Greenliner Programme, has driven an industry-leading sustainability initiative which targets all areas of our value chain. With Air-CRAFT, the Etihad ethos of partnerships and collaboration, and pursuit of the million little things continues strongly, under the banner of sustainability and the UAE.”

Mohammed Mohaisen, President and CEO Middle East and North Africa, Honeywell, said“Honeywell is a trusted technology partner to the aviation and energy sectors, sharing the common goal of decarbonizing the future of air travel. Our suite of technologies enables SAF producers to capitalize on a range of non-competing feedstocks, including waste fats, used oils and greases, biomass, ethanol, methanol and captured carbon dioxide, and we are fully committed to accelerating the local production and deployment of SAF in the UAE. Underscoring this commitment, we are proud to form Air-CRAFT alongside our valued partners to support the UAE’s National SAF roadmap and advance its leadership in this critical innovation.”

Dr. Steven Griffiths, Senior Vice-President, Research and Development, and Professor of Practice, Khalifa University, said“Khalifa University places the UAE’s energy transition at the core of its strategy. Given the critical importance of aviation to the UAE economy, the Air-CRAFT initiative therefore aligns seamlessly with our research agenda. Khalifa University looks forward to serving as the cornerstone of Air-CRAFT’s research, technology development and human capital development activities.”

Mohammad Abdelqader El Ramahi, Chief Green Hydrogen Officer for Masdar, said: “As the UAE’s clean energy champion, Masdar is delighted to support this initiative to accelerate innovation in and adoption of SAFs. Sustainable fuels have enormous potential to decarbonize hard-to-abate sectors. Masdar looks forward to working in collaboration and partnership with Air-CRAFT members to advance research and scale to deliver against the National SAF Roadmap, as well as continuing to drive our green hydrogen business which will be fundamental to the wider commercial production of SAFs and a key element of the UAE Energy Strategy 2050.”

More about the UAE’s decarbonisation efforts

The UAE is a global energy leader actively pursuing the decarbonization of its economy. It was the first country in the Gulf region to sign the Paris Agreement and the first country in the Middle East and North Africa to commit to reaching net zero emissions by 2050. It is also the host of COP28, and has declared 2023 as the Year of Sustainability in the country.

The biggest decarbonization lever available to the aviation industry is the adoption of SAF. For long-haul commercial flights in particular, no other technology platform is expected to significantly contribute to carbon neutrality goals in the next three decades at least, due to cost, technical or regulatory barriers.

Despite its critical role in decarbonization pathways for the aviation sector, SAF is supply-constrained and needs to be scaled rapidly.

The UAE Ministry of Energy and Infrastructure has published the National SAF Roadmap which has five principles to guide the industry in accelerating the decarbonization of the sector and transform it into a regional hub for alternative aviation fuels. The five principles are:

  1. Establishing the Ambition: 700 million liters of SAF by 2030
  2. Accelerating SAF Technology Deployment and Innovation
  3. Developing the National Regulatory Environment for SAF
  4. Building Local Capacity to Boost In-Country Value
  5. Leading International Collaboration

The Center for Renewable and Advanced Fuel Technologies for Aviation (Air-CRAFT) will pursue the industrialization of SAF production and create an ecosystem to address the five principles of the National SAF Roadmap.