Each year, the global aviation industry adds significant volumes of carbon emissions into the earth’s atmosphere, producing 915 million tons of carbon dioxide in 2019 alone. For National Aviation Day 2021, AZoCleantech looks at biorenewable development strategies for eco-friendly aviation fuel.
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The aviation industry is responsible for around 12% of all emissions attributed to the transport sector. While aircraft are around 80% more fuel-efficient today than they were in the 1960s, the industry still has a long way to go to reduce their emissions low enough to ensure that climate change goals are met.
Aviation companies and agencies are collectively working towards ambitious goals, put in place to significantly reduce the level of emissions associated with the sector and to push it toward shifting to carbon neutrality.
The use of sustainable aviation fuels (SAF) is a key strategy that will help the aviation industry achieve these goals. Recent research has focused on the development of biorenewable, eco-friendly aviation fuels in order to create a sustainable future for aviation, one which does not contribute to climate change.
Meeting Climate Change Goals with Biofuels
Currently, the aviation industry contributes to 15% of the global oil demand. If no drastic changes are made by 2030, the industry will account for 3.5% of global energy-related carbon dioxide emission – an increase from today’s 2.5%. Still, despite the industry’s continued efforts towards improving its energy efficiency, this is likely to occur.
SAFs present an opportunity to tackle the emissions associated with the aviation industry without the need for creating new infrastructure to support it. SAFs can be used in existing aircraft without having to alter the technology, with the potential to reduce conventional jet fuel emissions by up to 80%.
The aviation industry has ambitious goals of cutting its emissions by half (compared with the 2005 level) by 2050. The widespread adoption of SAF as a replacement for conventional jet fuel (created from fossil fuels) will likely be fundamental to helping the industry achieve these goals.
Current Use of Biofuels by the Aviation Industry
Biofuels were first used as a replacement for conventional aviation fuel back in 2008. Since this first bio-fueled flight took place, around 150,000 flights have opted to use this alternative.
A total of five airports around the world (Bergen, Brisbane, Los Angeles, Oslo, and Stockholm) are locations from which bio-fueled flights regularly take off. Occasionally, biofuel flights take place from other worldwide locations but many more airports will need to distribute the fuel in order to make enough of an impact to allow the industry to meet its climate change limits.
By 2030, it is projected that biofuels will account for around 10% of the fuel used by the aviation industry, with this figure reaching 20% by 2040. With 90% of all international flights taking off from just 5% of airports, SAF availability at these locations is fundamental to promoting the success of aviation biofuel.
Additionally, agreements between airlines and biofuel producers will also be fundamental to securing the successful shift from traditional fossil fuel-based aviation fuels. Currently, long-term agreements between these two parties cover roughly 6 billion liters of fuel. To meet increasing demand, some airports have invested in aviation biofuel refinery projects, more of which will be needed to facilitate a future where bio-fueled are the new standard.
Statistics show that faster adoption of biofuel is needed to meet climate change targets. In 2018, around 15 million liters of biofuel were used to fuel commercial flights. However, this only accounted for roughly 0.1% of the total fuel consumption of the entire industry.
Experts have made several recommendations for enhancing the uptake of eco-friendly aviation fuel. First, it is recommended that collaboration between stakeholders (including airports, aircraft manufacturers, airlines, biofuel producers, and governments) should be encouraged to accelerate SAF uptake.
Secondly, introducing higher carbon taxes is advised to act as an incentive for airlines to adopt SAF. Furthermore, experts suggest SAFs themselves should be produced from lignocellulosic biomass and waste feedstock in preference to food/feed crops to prevent increasing biofuel use causing problems with food supplies. Solving the issue of aviation emissions should not come at the cost of exacerbating food security issues.
The Future of Sustainable Aviation Fuel
SAF will undoubtedly play a key role in helping the aviation industry meet its ambitious climate change goals. However, the adoption of biofuels must be much more rapid for these goals to be met without the intended timeframe. Key players in the industry will need to collaborate to encourage the widespread adoption of SAF. The introduction of higher tariffs related to carbon emissions will also help increase the shift from traditional fuel to SAF.
References and Further Reading
Le Feuvre, P. (2019) Are aviation biofuels ready for take off? – Analysis - IEA. [online] IEA. Available at: https://www.iea.org/commentaries/are-aviation-biofuels-ready-for-take-off. Accessed August 2021.
Eng.ox.ac.uk. (2021) Global biorenewable development strategies for sustainable aviation fuel production. [online] Available at: https://eng.ox.ac.uk/synergors/news/global-biorenewable-development-strategies-for-sustainable-aviation-fuel-production/. Accessed August 2021.
Ng, K., Farooq, D. and Yang, A. (2021) Global biorenewable development strategies for sustainable aviation fuel production. Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews, 150, p.111502. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.rser.2021.111502. Accessed August 2021.