The University of Michigan is partnering with Delta Air Lines to help spur the availability and widespread adoption of sustainable aviation fuel and reduce lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions resulting from university-sponsored travel.
Under Delta’s SAF program, participating institutions provide financial contributions toward SAF use and can claim associated emissions reductions.
U-M’s contribution represents a lifecycle emissions reduction of more than 1,500 metric tons of CO2, as compared to conventional jet fuel — based on a methodology informed by the Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation and the Greenhouse Gas Protocol. This is equivalent to removing approximately 326 gasoline-powered vehicles from the road for one year.
President Santa J. Ono noted the partnership, along with other sustainability-related announcements, at his Nov. 17 Leadership Welcome.
U-M is the first university to partner with Delta on an SAF agreement.
“This collaboration will advance a cleaner form of travel and send an important signal to the market,” said Geoffrey Chatas, executive vice president and chief financial officer. “Travel is an essential function for researchers presenting their findings, students learning away from campus, and student-athletes representing the maize and blue, and we’re excited to pursue a more sustainable approach.”
SAF is a biofuel, made from renewable feedstocks such as used cooking oil, tallow or agricultural residues. It is a less-carbon-intensive alternative to conventional jet fuel, with current potential to reduce lifecycle emissions by more than 75%. Accordingly, SAF can be a useful tool for reducing the carbon impact of aviation, which the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates makes up 9-12% of total emissions from U.S. transportation.
Central goals of the collaboration are to enable the development of more accessible SAF and incentivize the construction of new fuel production facilities to meet emerging demand. Preliminary discussions are underway between U-M and Delta to identify collaborative research opportunities focused on improving and standardizing sustainable approaches.
“Cross-sector collaboration is crucial toward U-M carbon neutrality,” said Drew Horning, special adviser to the president for carbon neutrality strategy. “Through this partnership, U-M can help ensure that SAF carries limited environmental risks and transparent benefits.”
The collaboration aims to address and reduce a subset of the university’s Scope 3 emissions, which pertain to sources that U-M does not directly control, such as university-sponsored travel, commuting and food. U-M will establish goals for a wide range of Scope 3 emissions sources by 2025.
Progress toward climate action
U-M’s SAF partnership comes as Ono announces a national search for a new leader tasked with directing sustainable operations and carbon neutrality efforts. The senior-level position will report to the university’s chief financial officer and advise the president on universitywide sustainability work.
Ono also noted a new initiative that will bring together resources across schools and colleges to address climate change.
U-M’s commitment to carbon neutrality encompasses the Ann Arbor, Flint and Dearborn campuses, including Michigan Medicine. The university expects to reduce its total Scope 1 and 2 emissions — those from direct campus sources and purchased electricity, respectively — by 50% by 2025.
In September, the university published its inaugural climate action report, which covered geo-exchange heating and cooling plans, energy conservation projects financed by a revolving energy fund, “green bonds,” and other relevant efforts.
U-M also, in collaboration with faculty experts, recently adopted initial maximum emission standards for all new building projects.
Additionally, Ono announced that U-M is now the lead institution for the University Climate Change Coalition, which convenes 23 leading North American universities working toward climate action — on campus, in communities and globally. Ono previously helped lead the organization, known as UC3, as president of the University of British Columbia.