Truckee Tahoe Airport Goes All-in on Sustainable Aviation Fuel

Truckee Tahoe Airport Goes All-in on Sustainable Aviation Fuel
Mike Schwanz
Published in: 

Truckee Tahoe Airport (TRK) in California recently made a bold environmental move by changing from standard Jet A to sustainable aviation fuel (SAF). The general aviation airport started offering SAF several years ago, with a goal of gradually increasing the percentage sold to 100% by the end of 2023. However, airport officials decided to accelerate the process and completed the transition by June instead.  

The decisive move was warmly endorsed by the airport’s 25-member board of directors and the community at large. “One of the major goals stated in our mission statement is to reduce impact on our neighbors and environment,” says TRK General Manager Robb Etnyre. “Most of our neighbors, as well as business leaders, here on the north shore of Lake Tahoe are very environmentally conscious. This beautiful Sierra Nevada range is where they live and work, so they generally support our conservation efforts.”  

Not all customers were on board, though. In general, SAF costs about 20% to 30% more than Jet A, and some small jet operators balked at the higher price. Aviation Director Jeff Menasco reports that a few of TRK’s 227 hangar tenants expressed concern about the issue. “We are working closely with our locally based jet tenants, already paying other local rents and taxes, to address their concerns,” he says.

In early September, TRK’s more environmentally friendly fuel cost $9.67 per gallon. Regular Jet A has averaged about 25% less so far this fall, notes Menasco.

Etnyre emphasizes that the cost of TRK’s fuel is comparable with SAF offered at other airports in the region. ”We are not price-gouging, but we are not a bargain-basement transactional operation, either,” he states. “We will be competitive to other airports in our area that sell SAF, while also taking into account operating costs in our mountainous environment.”

As is the case with auto gasoline, the price for SAF varies, depending on multiple factors.


Project: Full Transition to Sustainable Aviation Fuel

Truckee Tahoe Airport (CA)

Annual Operations: 35,000

Fuel Manufacturer: Neste

Fuel Supplier: Avfuel

Truck Delivery: 
All State Tank Lines

Estimated Carbon Reduction: 23%

Additional Cost: 20%-30%

Key Benefits: Reduces carbon footprint across the fuel’s lifecycle; creates goodwill with environmentally conscious local community

TRK has a robust roster of corporate customers. Several large charter companies, including NetJets and Executives Jets, frequently use the airport. Those operators have not complained about the higher price for SAF. In fact, they often market the use of it to their customers. “Their selling point is: ‘When you fly with us, you are doing your part in improving the environment, since we are reducing our carbon emissions,’” Menasco explains. 

Securing Inventory

The fuel sold at TRK, manufactured by Neste, is made from sustainability sourced 100% renewable waste and raw materials. The main components include used cooking oils and rendered fats. After the fuel is manufactured at one of Neste’s global refineries, it is shipped to a blending facility in Crockett, CA, in the East Bay section of San Francisco Bay. That’s where Neste blends the concentrated SAF product with refined jet fuel, usually at a ratio of 30% SAF and 70% Jet A. From there, Avfuel, the main distributor of SAF to business aviation in North America, distributes the blended SAF to its customers.

Current regulations allow for up to a 50-50 blend of SAF with conventional jet fuel, but Etnyre says the vast majority of SAF currently blended in the United States is done at the 30%/70% level. There are a variety of factors that influence this blend ratio, including the variability of the Jet A fuel source; price fluctuations for blending a higher ratio of SAF; and early market acceptance and adoption of SAF.

When blended at this ratio, Avfuel estimates that SAF reduces 19 metric tons of carbon emissions per 7,500-gallon truckload. Etnyre adds that every jet using the sustainable fuel purchased at TRK reduces the airport’s carbon footprint by about 23%.

After it is blended with conventional jet fuel, the SAF is certified according to ASTM-D7566, a specific certification process for SAF, and then is recertified to ASTM-1655, the Jet A specification. Keith Sawyer, manager of alternative fuels for Avfuel, notes that the blended SAF must pass a strict safety and quality certification process before it can be transferred to individual delivery trucks. “Since all the testing and certification of the final blended SAF is done at the blending terminal in Crockett, airport officials who buy it from us can be assured it is ready. They don’t have to worry about doing all of this testing themselves,” he says. Because the product is already blended for use in any standard jet aircraft, airports have no additional infrastructure costs to sell it, he adds.

According to Sawyer, the demand for SAF is increasing. “We have several Fortune 500 customers, and many of them want to reduce their carbon footprint on all their aircraft,” he reports. “The social contribution of using sustainable fuel is more valuable to them than paying the extra cost for using it.”

The Final Step

After the fuel is certified as ready to go, it is distributed by tanker trucks to TRK. As of mid-September 2023, the airport had received multiple truckloads, usually with 7,500 gallons each. Brian Farrell, operations manager for All State Tank Lines, describes the process as fairly seamless. TRK places an order with Avfuel and it contacts the trucking company’s dispatch team about the quantity of fuel needed, along with the delivery date and time, per the airport’s request. “We expect the demand to continue through the fall, perhaps as much as three or four loads per week,” Farrell predicts.

The process for loading SAF is slightly different from loading standard Jet A. Once All State drivers arrive at the Crockett facility to load SAF for Avfuel, an on-site, third-party testing company inspects the trailers to make sure all compartments are free of any aviation product. The inspector completes a pre-load test process, inspecting the terminal‘s SAF filtration system, and checking for water and SAF content to make sure all regulations are met. The driver loads each compartment of his or her trailer, per legal weight and compartment capacity considerations. After a 10-minute loading/settling period, the third-party tester releases fuel from each compartment into separate containers to test the fuel before releasing the load for transport.

“We haul petroleum products 24/7/365,” says Farrell, noting that the company’s trucks are equipped with special equipment to keep them rolling when snow and ice cover Interstate 80 east to Reno/Tahoe. “Some of our trailers have cab-activated ‘auto chains,’ along with rain gear and other equipment. If the road is open, we are operating.

“We do face hour-of-service considerations for our drivers, depending on the delays,” he adds. “When these types of delays occur, we work with Avfuel and/or TRK directly to keep them informed.”

Market Expected to Grow

Executives in the SAF industry are bullish that their segment will continue to grow in the future. Neste, the main manufacturer, is researching a new generation of sustainable fuels, including renewable raw materials such as purpose-grown crops and seeds, forest cellulosic waste, and converting both power and natural gas to liquid. SAF made from these materials could deliver even greater environmental benefits, says Sawyer.

What does he foresee in the meantime?

“First, we expect prices between refined jet fuel and SAF to narrow as the industry boosts production capacity and finds efficiencies,” he says. “Second, local, state and federal governments can entice the use of SAF by initiating various incentives. This is already being done in California, Oregon and Washington. Finally, we are finding that conservation-oriented individuals are choosing to travel on aircraft using SAF, despite the increased cost.”

Back at TRK, Etnyre is also optimistic that the use of SAF will continue to expand in the future, and he is pleased that the airport is helping pioneer its use. “We are proud that right now we are the only airport in the United States that offers SAF jet fuel exclusively,” he says. “However, I am confident that as production of SAF increases, this should drive down prices, and allow other airports to increase their SAF offering. In our case, more of our corporate clients already have expressed their interest in moving to a more carbon neutral position with their flight operations.”

SAF 101

Neste MY Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF) is made from sustainably sourced, 100% renewable waste and residue materials, such as used cooking oil and animal fat waste sourced from around the world.

In the United States alone, the company’s subsidiaries collect used cooking oil from more than 80,000 restaurants. 

The fuel is manufactured at refineries throughout the world and then shipped to one of the company’s blending terminal in California. Per ASTM jet fuel specifications, it can be blended up to 50% with conventional jet fuel. After blending, it is certified and transported for delivery via ships or trucks.

Neste uses its proprietary NEXBTL technology to produce SAF. This is based on Hydrotreated Esters and Fatty Acids (HEFA) technology, and is one of only seven ASTM-approved pathways to produce SAF. Michael Sargeant, vice president Americas for Neste’s Renewable Aviation Business Unit, notes that HEFA is currently the most commercially viable production technology in the sector, and most of the SAF produced today is HEFA SAF.

 Neste’s production process has several steps. After waste and residue materials are collected, they are pre-treated to remove impurities to improve the quality of the final product. The fuel itself is made from hydrocarbon molecules through a process called hydrodeoxygenation. During the refining process, the raw materials are broken down to molecular level and rebuilt as fuel molecules:

  • Oxygen originating from renewable raw materials is removed with the help of hydrogen. Other impurities, such as sulphur and nitrogen, are also removed during this process.
  • Hydrocarbons are then isomerized to fine-tune the properties of the end product into SAF.
  • After the isomerization step is completed, further distillation is completed so the resulting product fully meets ASTM-D7566 requirements.

Neste supplies a growing volume of SAF to airports in California, including San Francisco International (SFO) and Los Angeles International (LAX).

Fuel Operations

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