Posted by Jonathan
It’s no secret that air travel is a highly sensitive and controversial topic when it comes to the climate. The industry is under intense scrutiny to reduce it’s CO2 emissions, with many calling for people to give up flying altogether to help decrease the impact on the planet.
It’s estimated that aviation is responsible for 2.4% of global CO2 emissions, and around 5% of global warming – a substantial figure when only a very small percentage of the world’s population flies frequently.
Cue sustainable aviation fuels (SAF), which although may not be the ‘cure’ to saving the planet, they are certainly helping to transform the aviation industry for the better.
What are Sustainable Aviation Fuels?
Simply put, SAF is a renewable or waste-derived aviation fuel that produces a smaller carbon footprint and fewer harmful emissions when compared to conventional jet fuel. SAF can be produced from a variety of sustainable ‘feedstocks’ which include food and agricultural waste, cooking oil, animal waste (such as manure or fat), forestry waste and dedicated crops such as wood, fast-growing plants, and algae.
SAF can be created through a variety of technologies and can be utilised by any aircraft that’s certified to use the current specification of jet fuel. Known as ‘drop-in fuels’ they can be blended at up to 50% with traditional jet fuel, with no changes required to the fuelling infrastructure of an aircraft.
The Impact of Sustainable Aviation Fuels
It’s predicted that by 2050, the number of aviation passengers will double to 8 billion so the industry must take steps to reduce emissions. Several airlines have committed to producing zero carbon emissions by this same year, so there is an intense demand for SAF development.
SAF has the potential to provide a lifecycle carbon reduction of up to 80% compared to the traditional jet fuel it replaces. There is almost a net-zero creation of carbon dioxide with these fuels – for instance, fuels created by plants burn almost the same amount of carbon dioxide that’s absorbed by the plants grown to make it. SAF improves aircraft performance – it burns cleaner in aircraft engines as it contains fewer impurities such as sulphur, oxygen, and aromatics. It also reduces environmentally damaging gases, such as methane, produced by matter that would otherwise be left to decompose in landfill.
Alongside this, SAF creates economic opportunities. Growing biomass crops not only provides revenue streams for farming communities, but it can also work to improve water quality and quantity, increase biodiversity and carbon in the soil, while simultaneously reducing methane gas—a key contributor to climate change. If a country can grow its own biomass for SAF then this also reduces the need to transport fuel from a limited number of oil-producing countries – which in turn creates huge carbon emissions.
The Future is Sustainable
Although SAF is still a relatively new concept, over 370,000 commercial flights have used it since 2016, with the first-ever flight using 100% sustainable aviation fuel in a commercial aircraft taking place in Sweden earlier this year.
Yet, despite the clear need for SAF, higher costs are limiting its production. SAF requires long-term investment in advanced technologies to meet ambitious goals set by the industry in depleting emissions. However, when SAF in its ‘early stages’ has presented such promising results, what better investment could be made than one that preserves the planet for future generations?
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