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


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.


Latest News: On April 30, Treasury released guidance on these tax credits. RFA welcomed this, but noted that additional work is needed.


March 2024 RFA White Paper: Understanding GREET Model Land Use Change Estimates for Corn Ethanol-to-Jet Fuel


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.


A History of Action


RFA has worked diligently with lawmakers and others over the past several years to ensure ethanol can participate in SAF opportunities. RFA’s efforts on the SAF tax credit began long before the Inflation Reduction Act was introduced, including correspondence with congressional tax-writing committees in August 2021 and a joint industry letter in April 2022. More recently:


  • In February 2023, 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 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.
  • In November, 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, 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.
  • In January, RFA offered specific recommendations for ensuring that the best available science and data are used in determining eligibility for the SAF tax credit established in the Inflation Reduction Act. 
  • In February, a bipartisan group of 43 lawmakers in both houses of Congress sent a letter to the Interagency Working Group, asking it to meet the March 1 deadline for updates to the GREET model and ensure the updates are based on sound science, current data, and methodologies that properly recognize modern practices in agriculture and biofuel production.
  • When the March 1 deadline passed, RFA called on the working group to move quickly, noting that it was important to get the modeling right. Later that month, RFA was part of a coalition of biofuel and farm advocates that called on the Treasury Department to swiftly resolve any questions standing in the way of efforts to scale up U.S. production of sustainable aviation fuel.
  • On April 24, RFA was part of another major coalition that called on agriculture committee leaders in Congress to boost the role of American farms in fueling low-carbon aviation by including meaningful SAF provisions, such as the Farm to Fly Act, into the farm bill.
  • Finally, RFA is a founding member of the SAF Coalition, which launched April 29 to accelerate the development and deployment of sustainable aviation fuel in the United States.