Is greener aviation set for take-off?

The aviation industry is synonymous with producing high volumes of carbon emissions. In 2019, flights produced 915 million tonnes of carbon dioxide (CO2) according to the Air Transport Action Group (ATAG). As such, making air transport ‘green' has become a top political priority, with the UK Government recently announcing funding to support these efforts. Here, Matthew Stone, chairman of Renovare Fuels, a specialist in carbon-neutral liquid fuels, explores how aviation can go green.

The volume of CO2 produced by air travel in 2019 accounted for approximately two per cent of the total 43 billion tonnes produced globally. This may seem like a comparatively low percentage, but when we consider the overall volume of emissions and the rate of climate change linked to it, it's still two per cent too much.

Unfortunately, the number of flights conducted every year has increased consistently in the past few years. In fact, it's increased so much that a 2019 study by the International Council on Clean Transportation (ICCT) highlighted that aviation carbon emissions grew between 2013 and 2018 at a rate that was 70 per cent faster than was predicted.

Although the COVID-19 response limited the amount of air journeys and thus curbed the emissions for 2020, it's time to find ways of improving the sustainability of aviation long-term. The aviation sector will have many issues to address due to the difficulties presented by COVID-19 and, in reality, we cannot expect sustainability to be the immediate priority of many in the sector. However, improved sustainability should continue to be a mid- and long-term goal.

Even with these challenges, the need for this long-term change continues to be an industry talking point. It's reported that, following the first meeting of the UK's Department for Transport's (DfT) net zero board, international aviation and shipping will be included in the UK Government's net zero target in the coming years, driving a need for greener aviation.

Each of these was likely an influencing factor behind the UK Government's Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (BEIS) recently announcing £400 million funding for green aerospace research and technology.

However, it's not only aerospace design engineers that can make aviation greener: end users can too. A few years ago, many airlines and users elected to follow the UN's Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation (CORSIA). There are several ways that aviation businesses can offset emissions, but perhaps one of the most impactful is to blend a portion of biofuels into their traditional fuel stock.

Biofuels derived from waste offer significant value to airlines and aviation fuel users. Because the feedstock for the fuel can come from biodegradable waste products of other sectors including agriculture, it removes carbon from the environment during its growth, requires no additional energy input and does not compete with existing produce or crops.

For second generation biofuels for aviation, such as those being developed by Renovare Fuels, this can provide an objectively carbon neutral source of fuel for end users. The best part is that using these fuels is as simple as partnering with the biofuel producer, easily creating sustainable fuel supply chains that significantly offsets emissions.

This is one option for making aviation greener. While the BEIS is certainly right to address the need for continued research into technologies that can support better fuel economies, end users using biofuels for aviation to offset emissions is unquestionably beneficial. If we are to see green aviation take off in the near future, aviation fuel users can take key actions today to make overall emission levels decline.

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