U.S. airlines announced a goal Thursday to use 3 billion gallons of renewable jet fuel by 2030, and the White House released a plan to spur development of the biofuel the industry will need

In March, the airline industry had promised to use 2 billion gallons by 2030, about 10% of current consumption. Just 4 million gallons of sustainable aviation fuel, or SAF, were produced in 2020, with much of it used  at California airports.

Airlines "have embraced the need to take even bolder, more significant steps to address the climate crisis,” said Airlines for America President and CEO Nicholas Calio.  “Today, I am pleased to announce that we are increasing our SAF ‘challenge goal’ by an additional 50%.”

United Airlines separately announced a commitment to buy 1.5 billion gallons of SAF over 20 years under an agreement with Alder Fuels, a pioneer in SAF technology. United and Honeywell are jointly investing in cleantech firm. 

Under the White House plan, the departments of Energy and Agriculture will be carrying out a “Sustainable Aviation Fuel Grand Challenge" to ultimately make the industry carbon neutral by 2050. Sustainable aviation fuel can be made from soybean oil and other oilseeds as well as grease and waste fats. 

The goal of the challenge is “to reduce costs, enhance sustainability, and expand production and use of sustainable aviation fuels (SAF) that achieves a minimum of a 50% reduction in life cycle GHGs compared to conventional fuel,” the agencies said. 

The White House plan calls for the Environmental Protection Agency to coordinate with DOE to speed up the regulatory approval process for new fuel and feedstock pathways that can qualify for Renewable Identification Numbers in the Renewable Fuel Standard program.

USDA has been tasked to help farmers through research pertaining to biomass feedstock development, as well as sustainable crop and forest management.

“We can expand our ability to power the nation’s aviation sector with fuel grown right here at home by hard-working Americans, while creating economic opportunity for American farmers, business owners and rural communities,” Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack said.

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Calio, who announced the airlines' new goal at a White House event, said Congress needed to enact a tax credit of $1.50 to $2 a gallon to encourage SAF production. 

Commercial jets are expected to consume 35 billion gallons of fuel a year by 2050. 

"With the right policy signals and support, ethanol-to-jet technologies can quickly scale up to meet the future SAF needs of the aviation sector," said Geoff Cooper, president and CEO of the Renewable Fuels Association, who expressed confidence that ethanol would play a role in the airline industry. 

Kurt Kovarik, vice president of government affairs at the National Biodiesel Board, told Agri-Pulse recently the organization sees potential in the airline market but is concerned about the impact on feedstocks. Airline demand for soy-based jet fuel could further increase prices for soybean oil, squeezing biodiesel producers. 

“Our motivation here is to ensure that we can continue to contribute to the goals of the administration, and that is decarbonization of all energy, all liquid transportation (fuel),” he said.