‘Climate-Smart’ Corn-Based SAF Rules Defined


The Biden administration has laid out rules for corn farmers to qualify for subsidies to supply feedstock for sustainable aviation fuel (SAF). The corn is now used to make ethanol, which is added to gasoline, but the move to electric cars will diminish that market. Ethanol can be turned into Jet A, however, and will cut the carbon footprint of jet fuel. The administration is proposing subsidies from $1.25 to $1.75 a gallon for farmers but only if they meet some conditions.

The farmers will have to use of “climate-smart” farming practices, including the use of approved fertilizers. The resulting fuel must cut greenhouse gas emissions by at least half compared to Jet A made from fossil fuels. The measures were met with approval from the farm community, but environmentalists are less enthusiastic. They are concerned a flood of ethanol-based SAF will hinder development of fuels that are even greener that the corn-based product.

Russ Niles
Russ Niles is Editor-in-Chief of AVweb. He has been a pilot for 30 years and joined AVweb 22 years ago. He and his wife Marni live in southern British Columbia where they also operate a small winery.


  1. I would love to see the data on how ‘SAF’ this really is. From my understanding (correct me if I’m wrong) more energy (read CO2 emissions) is used to create ethanol from corn than is recovered. If that is so, then where is the benefit?

    This ‘clean’ source was foisted upon the automotive industry, causing all sorts of issues. Let’s think long term people. Short term ‘knee jerk’ solutions, along with subsidies that don’t fix any of the problems are not solutions

    • I’ve heard the same that corn has a negative gain in terms of energy gain. It would be interesting to see some actual data on this for all types of energy. Corn, wind, solar, AND oil, to see the amounts of energy needed to produce a given output.

    • I think the question isn’t so much “are corn-based fuels net-zero”, but rather “how do they compare to fossil fuels”. Obviously fossil fuels also require energy to extract and convert into usable fuel, but is that more or less than growing, harvesting, and converting corn into fuel? I don’t know the answer to that.

    • You are correct. It takes an immense amount of diesel to farm large areas and the fertilizers are petroleum based.

      Also, food should be eaten, oil from the ground should be burned.

  2. “Climate-Smart” and “Corn-based fuels” sounds like an oxymoron to me. It should be a crime to use food or feed as fuel. The terrible consequences of the EISA 2007 that polluted our fuel with ethanol and caused massive price increases in our food and feed are the best evidence of the Limbaugh Truth: “Whatever the government touches, turns to crap.” Has no one heard of the disaster caused to farmers in Ceylon when its government listened to the wizards of smart in the UN concerning fertilizers instead of the farmers themselves? That idiotic government decision led to massive protests and the president fleeing his own country when protesters set fire to his mansion.

    • This IS true, Kent. I’ve been summering in WI for over 20 years. In the ‘early’ days, numerous fields laid fallow … not used. Then — suddenly — ethanol became de rigueur and every square foot of farmland was growing field corn. There’s a huge ethanol plant just west of OSH, too. About that same time, feed for the bovines got more expensive leading to price increases in beef and other food staples. It’s all interconnected.

  3. Those of us “of a certain age” remember when “Perpetual Motion” was a “thing” that was “right around the corner.” “Perpetual Motion is a movement that goes on forever without additional energy added.” The concept of “something for nothing” never worked out, either.

    Go to Wikipedia and look up all the “right around the corner” “demonstration projects”. Look at the empty results of these “right around the corner promises. Look at the millions of dollars of government and investor money wasted–and STILL couldn’t fulfill the dream. Look what the results (or better said “the LACK of demonstrable and economic results”) are.

    For those that REALLY BELIEVE that this can economically replace conventional jet fuel–here’s your chance to “get in on the ground floor” and invest! What “investments” HAVE been made are mainly in “demonstration projects” VIRTUE SIGNALLING.

    I’d really appreciate a “Bertorelli Take” on the subject. I know that he is a “tough act to follow”–but his “here is my take–warts and all” beats the “cheerleading” from the “SAF is right around the corner” crowd.

    • I think you have easily set the record for the most quotation marks in a single comment. Well done.

  4. Climate smart farming practices, before you can acquire subsidies. So, if you use a diesel tractor you receive minimal subsidies. BUT, if you use mules or horses you are in like flint. I would like to see what their list of approved fertilizers are as well. Past history has shown a great loss in production quantity/quality by using green fertilizers over chemical based. This is nothing more than political posturing for the election cycle…at a huge cost to the average American citizen.

    • On last thought….based on Joe`s actions…….The Amish will be taking over the Aviation industry…

      • AND … they’ll be making those airplanes out of wood, too, John. I don’t know what they’ll do about not using rubber tires but … some SAF savvy buggy driver will figure it out. Uncle Joe pouring ‘our’ free money on it all will surely grease the skids.

      • Nah, the Amish won’t let the gov’mint tell them how to farm their land. They’re smarter than that!

  5. I grew corn in my garden for a few years. It’s an extremely heavy feeder. Sucks the life out of the soil. I can’t imagine growing it at a commercial scale without a *lot* of fertilizer.

  6. So, as if converting corn to ethanol was not already an energy loser, they want to take the alcohol , use natural gas to super heat it to drive off the oxygen, then catalyze it to longer chains, then use natural gas as a source of hydrogen to finish out the hydrocarbon units, and then use natural gas to heat/distill out the usable fraction?

    This is insane.

  7. So far, not many supporters for SAF on this site! Do you suppose it is because we are bitter curmudgeons, or because most of us have actual experience with the over-claiming of the “new and improved” processes? There were a lot of overclaims about the virtues of electric cars as well–until reality set in.

    Or perhaps, in the view of the TRUE BELIEVERS, we are just Luddites…..

    • I’m an organic chemist and a realist.
      What’s more believable, no one ever thought of synthetic aviation fuel before OR some lying politician is just trying to keep his lobbyists happy?

  8. Years ago, an old chemical engineering professor of mine started his first lecture by saying “Given the right catalysts and lots of time and money, you can turn natural gas (methane) into everything from Everclear to asphalt. The question is whether you should.” The point of his lecture was that being a chemical engineer requires you to find the most efficient and cost-effective way to produce your desired product. Turning corn into jet fuel is neither efficient nor cost effective. Of course it will make the farmers happy. Ethanol plants will take pretty much any corn you produce, because they aren’t planning to feed anyone with it. If more fuel-efficient cars and hybrids and electrics are dropping the demand for ethanol, that’s kind of the way a free-market economy works. Coming up with a way to subsidize one dumb idea with another one is not good for anyone, especially the flying public. This is obviously an election year. Tell the farmers to switch to growing soybeans. Turning them into Jet A is much easier and cheaper.

    • Actually, only partially correct. It is not a cost or energy effective alternative, but they won’t take just anything in the corn crop. The ethanol plants are actually more strict on the quality of the received grain than the grain elevators. Their acceptable moisture is lower (even though they add water to the corn to process it??), and they are restrictive on contaminates, as the mash left after the fermentation is generally sold for animal feed. As or “green” fertilizer, the only green that you’ll see in functional fertilizer has dead presidents on it. And as another commented, corn is nitrogen – intensive, requiring more Chemical fertilizer to grow year after year.

  9. Environmentalist, taxpayers, rational concerned citizens never seem to grow tired of the persistent false narrative of corn based fuel despite the long history of debunking this misperception and myth. Do a search for corn based fuel scam or something similar and real research and rational thought appears that you can read, become informed, and stop falling for the false narrative. https://www.reuters.com/business/environment/us-corn-based-ethanol-worse-climate-than-gasoline-study-finds-2022-02-14/

  10. Neste is the world’s leading SAF producer, claims that its SAF is 80 % renewable. Its SAF offering is made from sustainably sourced renewable waste and residues such as used cooking oil and animal fat waste. It think that in USA there is a lot of that kind of material and it is better than corn concerning sustainability.

    Last year, the average SAF price estimate was about $2,400 per tonne, about two and half times higher than the price of jet fuel, according to the International Air Transport Association.

    Neste, which produced 3.3 million tonnes of renewable fuels last year, aims to increase production capacity to 6.8 million tonnes by 2026, including 2.2 million tonnes of SAF.

    The net zero industry is a huge source of income for lobbying companies, and it is part of the plan for a new world order created by the UN in Brazil in 1992, called Agenda 21.

    One of its aims initially was to achieve global sustainable development by 2000, with the “21” in Agenda 21 referring to the original target of the 21st century. And all of this will collapse at the latest when the decision-makers come to their senses and understand that CO2 is necessary for life and that human-produced carbon dioxide has little significance for the global temperature. In addition, a little warming is downright desirable compared to the new ice age.

    Scientists who want an ice age have proposed shading the sun, adding particles to the atmosphere using, for example, nuclear bombs. Airplane con rails are also mentioned in artificial selections. Perhaps the aviation industry should follow this idea.