HomeTravelGreen jet fuel is here -- so why are airlines not using...

Green jet fuel is here — so why are airlines not using it?

(CNN) — There is a small likelihood that your subsequent flight might be powered, not less than partly, by used cooking oils or agricultural waste.

These are among the many components of SAF — Sustainable Aviation Fuel — a brand new sort of jet fuel that guarantees to curb carbon emissions by 80% on common, in line with IATA, the International Air Transport Association.

The first business flights using SAF took off in 2011, and it has since grown to turn into a key ingredient in making air transport extra sustainable.

The aviation business has pledged that, by 2050, its international carbon emissions might be half that of what they have been in 2005. It then hopes to succeed in web zero, or the whole absence of emissions, as early as a decade after that. That’s an especially bold plan, and one during which SAF accounts for 50% to 75% of the total reduction in emissions, relying on the completely different situations that may play out between from time to time.
And but in 2019 — the final 12 months of enterprise as traditional earlier than the pandemic — SAF accounted for simply 0.1% of all jet fuel used worldwide, according to the World Economic Forum. So why aren’t airlines using extra of it?

Scaling up

Many fashionable airplanes want few or no modifications to deal with SAF.

Mario Tama/Getty Images

SAF is a “drop in” fuel, which suggests it may be used now, in current plane, with little or no modifications.

“This is critical and very beneficial for the aviation industry, because there is no need to invest in new infrastructure or new aircraft, and it’s great for airports too, because they can use the same storage and fueling infrastructure — from that perspective, SAF is excellent,” says Andreas Schafer, a professor of power and transport at University College London.

In its bid to turn into extra sustainable, aviation is additionally next-generation applied sciences like hydrogen and electric-powered flight, however these require transformational modifications that are nonetheless a few years away. As Boeing’s CEO David Calhoun put it, SAF is “the only answer between now and 2050.”

SAF has a low carbon footprint as a result of it is produced from waste merchandise, the place the carbon has already been emitted, or from vegetation that deplete CO2 to develop.

The drawback is that it is at present way more costly to supply than common jet fuel, even with at the moment’s elevated oil costs.

“There’s no real business case for the sector to invest in it at the moment,” explains Schafer, that means that airlines don’t have any incentive to make use of SAF apart from to cut back emissions — however at present costs and amidst a worldwide disaster introduced on by Covid, that is a luxurious they cannot afford.

To make the worth go down, manufacturing must ramp up considerably and new sorts of SAF should come to the market.

Today, most SAF comes within the type of biofuel produced from waste fat equivalent to used cooking oil, or from oil timber purposely grown on degraded land. However, there is not sufficient of those uncooked supplies proper now to provide the business at a significant scale.

Powered by trash

Many major airlines have used SAF in commercial or test flights.

Many main airlines have used SAF in business or take a look at flights.

Eric Piermont/AFP/Getty Images

In the close to future, higher-cost biofuel might be produced from agricultural waste merchandise, equivalent to plant stems or husks, and residues from wooden processing, in addition to non-edible vegetation grown on function like miscanthus, just like bamboo.

Even municipal waste, the family trash that always goes to landfill, has the potential to be became SAF.

Finally, additional forward, we can make one other sort of SAF referred to as “power to liquid.” This methodology makes use of renewable power to extract hydrogen from water after which combine it with CO2 taken instantly from the air. The end result is an artificial liquid fuel that is carbon impartial and is available in a probably infinite provide — sufficient to fulfill the demand of the whole aviation business.

According to a price evaluation run by Schafer and his staff, present SAF produced from waste oils prices not less than 50% greater than common jet fuel.

The second sort, the higher-cost biofuel, can go for as much as thrice as a lot, and the “power to liquid” one comes at almost 4 occasions the worth of jet fuel. And that is primarily based on oil costs of $100 per barrel — the distinction will solely enhance if oil costs return to decrease ranges.

How can we convey these prices down?

“We need to expand the production of low-cost biofuels and then invest into the production of high-cost ones and power to liquid,” says Schafer.

“Several thousand production plants need to be built. And that’s not all, because you need the renewable power generation infrastructure for power to liquid. And that’s gigantic: half the electricity produced today globally would be required for the aviation sector in 2050. So the scale is enormous, and we better get started soon.”

A difficult future

Qantas boss Alan Joyce has expressed his airline's commitment to using SAF.

Qantas boss Alan Joyce has expressed his airline’s dedication to using SAF.

Greg Wood/AFP/Getty Images

The first business flight that used a mix of biofuels and common jet fuel was operated by KLM in 2011, however take a look at flights date again to 2008, with Virgin Atlantic and Air New Zealand among the many earliest adopters.

Since then, many main airlines have used SAF in business flights, together with SAS, Lufthansa, Qantas, Alaska and United, amongst others: according to IATA, over 370,000 flights with SAF within the fuel combine have taken off since 2016 alone. Aircraft and engine producers are additionally conducting assessments, signaling a worldwide curiosity. In March 2022, for instance, Airbus flew an A380 for three hours powering certainly one of its Rolls-Royce engines fully with SAF produced from cooking oil and different waste fat.
However, progress has slowed down because of the pandemic, and the business’s pre-Covid aim of reaching 2% use of SAF by 2025 — from 0.1% in 2019 — now appears uncertain.

“We’re certainly behind the 2025 goal and I think it’s unlikely that we’ll get there naturally,” says Glenn McDonald, an aviation analyst at Aerodynamic Advisory, suggesting that outdoors intervention is wanted to make SAF extra engaging, both by way of subsidies that make it cheaper or by way of a carbon tax that makes conventional jet fuel costlier.

It would not assist that aviation is a worldwide and fragmented business with guidelines and rules that fluctuate from one nation to the following. It’s probably that progress might be uneven: Norway, for instance, has mandated since 2020 that 0.5% of all jet fuel used domestically should be SAF, a share that should develop to 30% by 2030.

Preference shift

Airbus has flown the A380 superjumbo for three hours powered by SAF.

Airbus has flown the A380 superjumbo for 3 hours powered by SAF.

Airbus

According to McDonald, there are encouraging indicators.

“Airlines are starting to take it more seriously because they see a shift in consumer preferences, especially among younger travelers, and they know they will have to meet these goals in order to be a viable industry in the 2050s,” he says.

“A common refrain we hear in the aerospace and aviation sector is that we don’t want to become the new tobacco industry, where the business model isn’t aligned with public policy and consumer attitudes.”

For passengers, the shift to SAF is perhaps fully unnoticeable, as a result of no seen facet of a flight is affected by the change in fuel.

However, as airlines really feel extra stress to make use of SAF earlier than its price aligns with common jet fuel — no ahead of the 2030s in line with the World Economic Forum — they may offload among the prices on passengers, leading to a rise in fares of as much as 15%, in line with Schafer.

“From a consumer perspective, that’s not much, but from an airline perspective, it can be, because the profitability of airlines is typically well below 15%. So this will cause more restructuring in the market.”

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