Sustainable Aviation Fuel - Is it Really Possible?
Aviation accounts for over 2% of global energy-related emissions, 7.3% in France where air travel is more common. In the last number of decades, emissions in the aviation industry have grown faster than those of road, rail or shipping. For example, emissions increased by 24% from 2005 - 2019 and despite a big decrease throughout the pandemic, the International Energy Agency (IEA) expects aviation emissions to exceed 2019 levels within a few years. If nothing is done about increasing emissions, they could triple by 2050.
NET ZERO AGREEMENT
The industry agreed in September 2021 to commit to net-zero CO2 emissions by 2050. The Net Zero approach in itself is hotly debated, as in many cases companies rely on offsets to reduce emissions, rather than real emission reductions. Offsets lack regulation, and thus transparency on their true impact. Last November, Rolls-Royce conducted the first ever test run of an aircraft powered by clean hydrogen and although this was a defining moment in the industry, clean hydrogen is unlikely to become commercially viable until the mid-2030s. So the airline industry is currently pinning its hopes on Sustainable Aviation Fuels (SAF).
SAF’s that are commercially viable today are biofuel’s which are typically made from vegetable oils or ethanol (from crops such as sugar cane or corn). They also already deliver a 60-85% reduction in CO2 emissions. In June 2021, a Swedish airline completed the first ever commercial flight flying SAF in both its engines.
A LONG WAY TO GO
Although this is positive news, it is only a very small step in the right direction, where a big leap is required. SAF are still very expensive and currently represent less than 0.1% of global aviation fuel consumption. The industry set a goal for SAF to reach 10% of overall aviation fuels globally by 2030. In order to reach this goal they must scale up supply and reduce costs for SAF and set clear market and demand signals from governments and companies.