Prepare for Takeoff: Scaling the Sustainable Aviation Fuel Industry in Washington State

The aviation industry is currently responsible for around 2 percent of global carbon emissions. While many sectors of the economy can turn to more readily available mitigation technologies to decarbonize, aviation’s need for energy-dense liquid fuels, combined with its projected growth rate of 3-4 percent per year, make it a climate imperative to rapidly scale the production of lower-carbon “sustainable aviation fuel” (SAF).

Washington state is home to a cluster of aviation industry players that are demonstrating leadership in the development of a robust SAF supply chain—from aircraft manufacturers, world leading aviation research institutions, and hub airports, to fuel offtake customers such as airlines, technology companies, and military bases. Though Washington has historically lacked operational SAF producers, a crucial piece of the supply chain, its efforts to attract investment have recently come to fruition, with SkyNRG and Twelve announcing they will build new production facilities.

In 2012, to build on Washington’s leadership in aviation and potential as a SAF leader, the state began convening leaders in the aviation sector to provide recommendations to the state’s legislature to develop a sustainable aviation fuel industry. This Sustainable Aviation Biofuel Work Group, now renamed the Alternative Jet Fuels Work Group, laid out a set of recommendations to advance the sustainable aviation fuel industry in Washington State.  Those recommendations were the basis of several key policy victories that will accelerate the sustainable aviation fuel industry needed to support the state’s climate goals.

  • In 2021, HB 1091 established a clean fuel standard in the state of Washington, which requires fuel suppliers to gradually reduce the carbon intensity of their fuels to 20 percent below 2017 levels by 2034.
  • In 2023, Senate Bill 5447 passed to accelerate the state’s alternative jet fuel industry by attracting investment in SAF production facilities. It aims to attract investment by establishing a preferential tax rate for those manufacturing and wholesaling SAF in the state, and creating a flexible tax credit that can be utilized by the producer, blender, or end-user for the sale or purchase of each gallon of SAF.
  • In 2023, HB 1216 passed to consolidate and streamline the permitting process by creating a dedicated permitting council, setting two-year timelines on the environmental review process, and allowing the designation of certain Clean Energy Projects of Statewide Significance.

These policy wins have created what may be the most advanced state-level policy environment in support of a sustainable aviation fuel industry in the nation—Washington is currently the only state with both a Clean Fuel Standard and a SAF tax credit. With over a decade of background discussing the topic and driving policy success at the state level, local stakeholders are in a unique position to suggest how federal policy can complement the existing work in Washington. To build on this long history of state-level work in Washington, C2ES brought together nearly 40 participants for a roundtable discussion in April 2024.

The conversation was designed to learn from local stakeholder experiences and develop specific, actionable federal policy solutions to supplement state-level support for SAF through a series of facilitated small group discussions. These discussions were focused on three areas of potential high impact: overall near-term federal policy support, furthering SAF R&D needs, and federal support for the buildout of SAF-related infrastructure.

Several key federal policy needs emerged during the focused policy discussions throughout the roundtable, including:

  • the extension of incentives for SAF production and blending to help catalyze investment in new SAF facilities and boost supply
  • more access to funding and legal eligibility for airports to make investments in SAF related infrastructure
  • ensuring that dedicated, annual R&D funding grows alongside the scale of opportunity for key components across the SAF supply chain.

Washington’s long-term leadership in the sustainable aviation fuel industry gives local stakeholders the knowledge and experience to produce valuable recommendations for federal policymakers. It is crucial for Congress to hear directly from Washington’s practitioners and experts on the opportunity SAF represents for their state and the country. In July 2024, C2ES will be bringing roundtable participants to D.C. for an advocacy day to share their priorities and collaboratively developed policy recommendations on Capitol Hill.