Inflation Reduction Act Sustainable Aviation Fuel Credit

September 7, 2022 By , ,

September 7, 2022

by Megan Boutwell

Among the many incentives for renewable fuel production in the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) is a new set of tax credits for sustainable aviation fuel (SAF). The IRA defines a two-phased approach to help meet the Biden administration’s goal of producing 3 billion gallons of SAF in the U.S. by 2030. The first two-year phase, 2023-2024, expands the Biomass-based Diesel Blenders Tax Credit (BTC), established under Section 40A of the tax code, to include a separate per-gallon incentive for SAF under Section 40B. In the second two-year phase, 2025-2027, the tax credit is enhanced so that renewable fuels including SAF, will be eligible for the Clean Fuel Production Credit (CFPC); Section 45Z. In this article, we’ll dig into the details of each tax incentive along with the value each incentive would provide a sample gallon of low-carbon SAF.

Phase 1 SAF Tax Credit – Curing CI Blindness

The BTC grants a $1-per-gallon tax credit to each gallon of biodiesel and renewable diesel blended into the U.S. diesel pool, without consideration for lifecycle greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. The new SAF tax credit, however, is not “CI-blind”; rather, the IRA requires a baseline GHG reduction and incentivizes increased reductions. To qualify for the new $1.25-per-gallon SAF credit, the fuel must reduce GHG emissions by at least 50% compared with petroleum-based jet fuel. The regulation further incentives CI reduction by including an additional $0.01-per-gallon tax credit for each percentage point above the 50% reduction for a maximum of $1.75 per gallon.

In addition to the 50% GHG reduction threshold, eligible SAF must:

  1. Meet the requirements of ASTM International Standard D7566 or Fischer Tropsch (FT) provisions of ASTM International Standard D1655, Annex A1.
  2. Be produced from applicable biomass material (defined as any organic material other than oil, natural gas, coal or their derivatives) including monoglycerides, diglycerides, triglycerides, free fatty acids, and fatty acid esters.
  3. Be certified as having a lifecycle GHG emissions reduction percentage of at least 50% in accordance with CORSIA or any similar methodology which satisfies criteria under the U.S. Clean Air Act.
  4. Be blended and sold in the U.S.; fuel produced outside the U.S. qualifies if it is blended and sold here.

The tax credit will not apply to fuel derived from co-processing with non-biomass feedstocks, palm fatty acid distillates, or petroleum.

Like the BTC, the program will be administered by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). Entities must register with the Secretary of the Treasury. The credit can be used to offset excise tax liability or as a direct payment in the event of insufficient excise tax liability.

What will this incentive look like for a gallon of SAF? We’ve developed a calculation using a sample baseline CI for petroleum jet fuel and a sample low-carbon SAF. The regulation does not define a baseline for petroleum jet fuel, but CORSIA and the federal Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) use a baseline CI of 89 gCO2e/MJ (or g/MJ). The IRS will need to develop regulations with specifics on how this is to be calculated before it is implemented. There aren’t a lot of commercial volumes of SAF on the market to compare, but we have two good examples. First, Neste recently announced that their MY SAF is CORSIA-certified and represents up to an 80% GHG reduction over petroleum jet fuel. As well, World Energy (listed as AltAir) has several pathways for SAF registered under California’s Low Carbon Fuel Standard (LCFS). Depending on the feedstock, these pathway’s CIs range from 38.43 – 18.87. Given this information (and to simplify the math) we’ll use a sample gallon of SAF with a CI of 20. The table below calculates the total per-gallon incentive for our sample gallon.

Table 1. Phase 1 – 20 CI SAF Tax Credit

Note that SAF volumes will also continue to qualify for RINs, and state LCFS credits in California, Oregon, and Washington state. These incentives can be stacked to further defray the cost of investment and production. Stay tuned for our analysis on the SAF Incentive Stack coming soon.

Phase 2 – CFPC Adds Complexity

After the SAF Tax Credit ends at the end 2024, the CFPC program will begin and will be in effect from 2025 through 2027. The CFPC sets a baseline emissions factor for SAF at 50 kilograms of CO2 per million BTU (kg CO2e/MMBtu), or 47.39 g/MJ. To qualify for the CFPC, SAF must:

  1. Meet the requirements of ASTM International Standard D7566 or Fischer Tropsch (FT) provisions of ASTM International Standard D1655, Annex A1.
  2. Be produced from applicable biomass material including monoglycerides, diglycerides, triglycerides, free fatty acids, and fatty acid esters.
  3. Have an emissions factor at or below 50 kg CO2e/MMBtu determined in accordance with CORSIA or any similar methodology which satisfies criteria under the U.S. Clean Air Act. As with the first phase above, the IRS will need to determine the emissions factor criteria and enforcement before they can implement the program.
  4. Be produced in the U.S. at a facility that meets prevailing wage for the locality and profession and apprenticeship requirements.(1) Qualifying fuel produced in the U.S. and exported is eligible for the tax credit.

The tax credit will not apply to:

  1. Fuel with an emissions rate greater than 50 kg CO2e/MMBtu
  2. Fuel derived from co-processing with non-biomass feedstocks, palm fatty acid distillates, or petroleum.
  3. Entities that claim the 45Q Carbon Capture and Sequestration (CCS) credit or the 45V Clean Hydrogen credit.

There are two factors determining SAF credit value under the CFPC: the $1.75 Base Credit, adjusted for inflation, and the Emissions Factor which accounts for the full lifecycle GHG emissions of the fuel, similar to an LCFS CI score but with a different unit of measure. The full credit amount is calculated by subtracting the fuel’s emission rate from the baseline emissions factor of 50 kg CO2e/MMBtu, dividing that number by the baseline emissions factor, and multiplying that number by the Base Credit to get the CFPC SAF credit amount. For this example, we’ll use our same 20 g/MJ CI SAF from above, this time converted to kg CO2e/MMBtu, for an emissions factor of 21.1 to calculate the CFPC credit value for our sample gallon of SAF.

Table 2. Phase 2 – CPFC SAF Credit  

As part of the program, the Secretary of the Treasury will publish a table of emissions rates for similar types and categories of transportation fuels based on lifecycle GHG emissions as described in the Clean Air Act and expressed in kg CO2e/MMBtu. Entities will use this table to report their appropriate emissions rate for the tax credit calculation. It may be the exact emissions rate from our example above will not appear in the emissions rates table, but this gives us an idea of what can be expected. An important implication is that all facilities using the same feedstock and conversion process will be considered to have the same emissions factor. This is different from LCFS programs where each facility needs to obtain a custom pathway for each feedstock, and inbound transport of feedstocks and outbound transport of products go into the calculations. The IRA effectively eliminates incentives for individual facilities to invest in CI reductions or to optimize feedstocks and markets based on geography.

Building the U.S. SAF Industry

The aviation and renewable fuels industries have long argued that a separate tax incentive specifically designed for SAF is required to generate commercial volumes of low-carbon drop-in aviation fuel priced at parity with petroleum jet fuel. The first phase of the SAF tax credit will help to grow the nascent industry and support new production while entities prepare strategies for the second phase. These strategies include finding ways to further drive down carbon intensity while creating prevailing wage jobs in the U.S. It’s yet to be determined whether either Phase 1 or Phase 2 will provide a sufficient incentive for these goals to be achieved. Only time will tell.

We’ll continue to provide analysis on SAF tax incentives and the opportunities and barriers they present for producers in upcoming articles. Stay tuned!

(1) We note that the CFPC’s requirement that volumes be produced in the U.S. is a disadvantage for Neste volumes coming from Singapore. However, Neste’s partnership with Marathon at the Martinez, CA refinery will be eligible.

 

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