Podcast Preview with Steve Csonka, CAAFI

By SAF Magazine | August 24, 2023

In July, SAF Magazine caught up with Steve Csonka, executive director of the Commercial Aviation Alternative Fuel Initiative. Csonka has more than 35 years of experience in broad airline, OEM and fuels experience in the commercial aviation industry, and heads up CAAFI’s tireless efforts to promote the development and deployment of the SAF industry.

SAF Magazine: Tell our listeners a little about CAAFI, its goals and members.

Csonka: CAAFI is a public-private partnership between the aviation industry and the federal government. We were formed in 2006 to focus on the development of sustainable fuels for the industry, because we recognized far back that in order to improve aviation sustainability with respect to greenhouse gasses, that we needed to focus on the energy side of things, or jet fuel. We have a very simple remit from our sponsors, which is to foster the development and commercialization of SAF, and we do that in a lot of ways, primarily through the private-public partnership with the government, but we also use different kinds of government funding mechanisms to enter into other public-private partnership activities to see work done on everything from R&D activities through demonstration and deployment. Through my work with our sponsor airlines, I assist them with evaluating opportunities and have even been involved to the point of helping a producer and airline come to an agreement on a few offtake agreements. We have a very broad remit and go deep in some areas and not so deep in others, but we cover the full spectrum of fundamental science through end use of jet fuel in an existing airplanes. We have around 1,800 members worldwide and don’t charge for membership, we just ask of our members that they’re focused on the same things we are—the development and commercialization of SAF. Our current focus really happens to be on this intersection between the government and its commitments to the SAF Grand Challenge ... and the fact that the government knows they’re not going to be producing fuel, so there’s an entity needed to help close this gap on what [the government] does from an R&D, demonstration and deployment perspective, and what happens on the industry side with respect to feedstock, feedstock development and commercialization, and conversion into fuel. So that’s what’s keeping us busy at the moment—helping frame the structure of how industry and government work together on the [SAF] Grand Challenge.

SAF Magazine: What does the U.S. SAF industry look like right now? What are the main drivers of investment and demand?

Csonka: There is actually only one full-time SAF producer in the U.S. right now, and that often catches people off-guard because we’ve been working on this a long time. You hear a lot in the public press—a couple of times in the past few weeks it has made the front page for the editorial in the New York Times—so people see that there are things going on. Part of the blame for this mismatch between what we talk about and what’s actually happening, that can be attributed back to folks like CAAFI, but what we’re trying to do is set the stage for this very significant growth in the actual fuel production we expect to occur over the next five or six years leading into the first goal of the Grand Challenge. What I would say about the industry right now is that it is poised for significant improvements or increases in actual SAF production. Through things that we have a firm understanding of—where these companies are and where they’re going in their development cycle—we’re looking at just a bit over 2 billion gallons of projected production by the end of 2028, from our level of production and import last year of only 16 million gallons ... orders of magnitude higher over the next five years, and we’re busy working with all those companies as they work on their supply chain development and actually start building their facilities ... and looking downstream at what it will take to get this fuel to the end user customers. So, “on the verge” is the best way I can describe the status of SAF at the moment.

Listen to the full 16-minute podcast at safmagazine.com.