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Intersect Illinois CEO Dan Seals led a panel discussion at the inaugural Illinois SAF conference on industry producers turning corn, soy, and other renewable feedstocks into jet fuel. Photo courtesy of Illinois Manufacturers’ Association.

Illinois leaders are coming together around sustainable aviation fuel

Illinois is positioned to lead in Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF), a burgeoning industry with the potential to significantly alter the transport of goods and travel. SAF is an alternative fuel made from non-petroleum feedstocks and is increasingly recognized as a critical component in reducing greenhouse gas emissions within the aviation industry. This industry has immense opportunity, and companies in Illinois are emerging at the forefront.

The state’s ecosystem includes strong R&D, a wealth of feedstocks, a skilled biofuels workforce, and a large customer base. Leveraging this ecosystem and the state’s SAF tax credit, Illinois is a premier location for companies to accelerate the development and adoption of SAF.

Because of SAF’s rising profile in Illinois, the Illinois Manufacturers’ Association (IMA), in partnership with Intersect Illinois and the IL Corn Growers Association, held the inaugural SAF Conference in March to discuss industry opportunities.

The two-day conference was sponsored by the University of Illinois, ADM, and Marquis Sustainable Aviation Fuel.  It convened SAF producers, including ADM, Exxon Mobil, Honeywell, LanzaJet, Phillips 66, and Marquis; carriers, including Southwest, United, and American airlines; and other industry experts and state officials. Governor JB Pritzker delivered the keynote address.

“As a leader in biomanufacturing and aviation, Illinois is well-suited to lead the charge on sustainable aviation fuel adoption and manufacturing,” said Pritzker. “The shift to SAF will no doubt play an important role in Illinois’ long-term climate goals, all while promoting innovation and creating jobs for our state.”

Governor Pritzker delivered a keynote at the inaugural Illinois SAF Conference, emphasizing that Illinois is better positioned to lead the industry than any other state. Photo courtesy of Illinois Manufacturers Association.

Why is Illinois poised to lead in SAF?

SAF Tax Credit 

Enacted in July 2023, Illinois is one of the first states with a Sustainable Aviation Fuel Purchase Credit, which creates a $1.50 per gallon tax incentive for air carriers. Eligible SAF must meet a minimum of 50% lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions reduction compared to petroleum-based jet fuel. The effort exemplifies the state’s commitment to clean energy and investing in jobs of the future.

Customer Base 

With nine international airports and 33 Fortune 500 HQs, Illinois has a large customer base to fuel investment in the SAF industry. Illinois is home to Chicago’s O’Hare, one of the most connected airports in the world. O’Hare saw 26.3 million passengers in 2021, an 80% increase from 2020 and one of the largest increases in the country. Both Chicago O’Hare and Chicago/Rockford International are among the top 15 cargo airports in the nation, bringing more than 12 billion pounds of cargo to Illinois in 2021.

Biofuel Workforce 

Illinois has a skilled biofuel workforce to support the growth of the SAF industry, including:

  • 69K people employed in occupations important in advanced biofuels manufacturing.
  • 6th largest number of graduates ready for work in the biofuels industry in the U.S.


Illinois has a wealth of feedstock for developing SAF:

  • #1 soy producer in the U.S.
  • #2 corn producer in the U.S.
  • #3 ethanol producer in the U.S.
  • Responsible for 90% of U.S. oilseed production.

The Bottom Line 

“Sustainable aviation fuel could grow into the largest new market for U.S. and Illinois manufacturers have the opportunity to be at the forefront, creating jobs and taking the lead in efforts to reduce global carbon emissions,” said Mark Denzler, President & CEO of the Illinois Manufacturers’ Association.

The future of SAF in Illinois is promising. Companies looking to develop or utilize SAF in Illinois benefit from the state’s commitment to clean energy, SAF tax credit, and robust biofuel ecosystem. To learn more about opportunities surrounding SAF in Illinois, reach out to Intersect Illinois.