Flying High With Low-Carbon Ethanol

“Mark my words: In the next 20 years, farmers are going to be providing 95% of all the sustainable airline fuel.”

– President Joe Biden, at a July 2023 event in Maine


February 2024 update: Inside-the-Beltway campaign kicks off to promote ethanol for sustainable aviation fuel; click on WTOP icon at right for the radio spot.


January 2024 update: RFA Offers Recommendations for SAF Emissions Modeling


December 2023 update: RFA Welcomes Recognition of GREET Model in SAF Tax Credit Guidance


The Inflation Reduction Act of 2022 created tax credits meant to stimulate the production and use of sustainable aviation fuel (SAF), a critical tool in the aviation sector’s decarbonization strategy. To qualify for the tax credits, SAF must reduce lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions by at least 50% compared to conventional jet fuel.


RFA and many others—including airlines, SAF producers, farm groups, members of Congress and university researchers—have argued that the Department of Treasury should finalize its guidance for the tax credit by recognizing the Department of Energy’s GREET model as a “similar methodology” to the referenced model (established by the United Nations’ International Civil Aviation Organization, or ICAO), to determine SAF carbon intensity.



SAF Grand Challenge


Announced in September 2021, the SAF Grand Challenge is a federal government approach to working with industry to achieve 3 billion gallons per year of domestic sustainable aviation fuel production that achieves a minimum of a 50% reduction in life cycle greenhouse gas emissions compared to conventional fuel by 2030, and 100% of projected aviation jet fuel use, or 35 billion gallons of annual production, by 2050. 



Aviation Group Sees SAF Tripling in 2024


In December 2023, the International Air Transport Association announced estimates for global SAF production. In 2023, SAF volumes reached over 150 million gallons, IATA reported, double 2022 production. For 2024, IATA expects SAF production to triple to nearly 500 million gallons. This still amounts to just half of one percent of global aviation fuel consumption.




Over the past several years, RFA has been working diligently to ensure ethanol can participate in future SAF opportunities.


  • In November 2023, many RFA member companies signed on to a historic coalition letter that included major airlines, calling on the Biden administration to integrate the best available science and data regarding the carbon impacts of SAF into the tax credit program.

  • RFA also endorsed the Farm to Fly Act in November 2023, which would affirm a common definition of SAF for USDA purposes, as widely supported by industry and congressional leaders to enable U.S. crops to most effectively contribute to aviation renewable fuels via renewable fuels like ethanol. A Senate version was introduced in January 2024.

  • RFA’s efforts on the SAF tax credit began long before the IRA was introduced, including this correspondence with Congressional tax-writing committees in August 2021, as well as this joint letter in April 2022.

  • In February, RFA filed extensive comments urging the allowance of GREET modeling for the sake of the SAF tax credits. In June and July, the organization welcomed the introduction of the Sustainable Aviation Fuels Accuracy Act in both houses of Congress.

  • In August, at the RealClear Energy website, Cooper wrote about how farmers and ethanol producers can put “the S in SAF.” And in an August 22 blog post, he pointed out how the SAF modeling debate isn’t really about GREET vs. ICAO, but about “current data vs. old data.” Click here for a chart RFA has developed to explain the key differences between the DOE GREET approach and the ICAO approach.