Ryanair says ‘tough’ choices required to turbocharge sustainable aviation fuel development

Republic could use excess electricity to make sustainable fuels if it meets wind energy targets

Ryanair has committed to using sustainable aviation fuel for 12.5 per cent of its fuel needs by 2030, a panel discussion in Dublin heard on Friday. Photograph: Chris Radburn/PA Wire

A combination of government incentives and market-based measures will be required to make sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) more affordable for European airline operators, a Ryanair executive has said.

However, difficult political decisions will have to be made as carriers chart a course towards their 2050 net-zero emissions goals, he told an industry event in Dublin on Friday.

The panel discussion, organised by the Institute of International and European Affairs (IIEA), also heard the Republic could use excess electricity to produce green hydrogen, provided the government can meet its renewable energy targets in the coming years.

Speaking on the panel, Steven Fitzgerald, head of sustainability and finance at Ryanair, said “tough legislative changes” will be required to drive advancements in SAF.


“The aviation industry has a duty to lower its contribution to global warming,” he said. ”Decarbonising the industry will take a mix of different technologies. They all have the potential for reducing carbon dioxide emissions. But it will take the collective effort of all different stakeholders in the industry to make that happen.”

Ryanair, Mr Fitzgerald said, has committed to using SAF for 12.5 per cent of its fuel needs by 2030, ahead of the EU-mandated 6 per cent within that time frame. “It’s going to account for around one third of our decarbonisation journey out to 2050.”

However, he warned that many of the technologies airlines had hoped to rely on to help them decarbonise “are in their infancy” and will require the Government and the EU to redirect investment. Specifically, more research and investment is required to shift from sustainable fuels derived from waste fats and oils to the new generation of “power to liquid” fuels, which have the potential to reduce aviation emissions by up to 90 per cent.

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“The second generation of SAF is where the investment is needed,” he said.

But power to liquid fuels also require large amounts of hydrogen produced with electricity generated through renewable sources, known as green hydrogen. This could present policy trade-offs as the government looks to bolster energy security over the coming years.

However, Noel Cunniffe, chief executive of Wind Energy Ireland, said the Coalition is targeting the production of 37 gigawatts of offshore wind by 2050, only half of which is required to decarbonise the Republic’s economy. The other half “will need new customers, be that your exporters, new industry or manufacturing”.

The EU wants SAF to make up 6 per cent of the fuel supplied by airports by 2030, and to increase that share to 70 per cent by 2050.

A report from Sustainable Flight Solutions Ireland and SAF manufacturer SkyNRG, with the backing of aircraft manufacturer Boeing and lessors Avolon and Orix Aviation, last year suggested the Republic could build a €2.55 billion a year SAF industry by 2050 if it can meet its wind energy targets over the coming decades.

Ian Curran

Ian Curran

Ian Curran is a Business reporter with The Irish Times