Aviation biofuel can achieve an 80% reduction in greenhouse gas (“GHG”) emissions, according to leading producer, Neste. It is necessary that airlines blend renewable biofuel with JET A1 to meet their emissions reduction obligations.
With 10,000 planes in the sky at any one time, the aviation industry produces more than 3% of global carbon emissions and is one of the most polluting industries on the planet. Furthermore, by 2038 air passengers are set to double, which if left unchecked, will make it harder for their host countries to achieve their net-zero carbon emission targets.
Many airlines such as KLM, Emirates and Virgin Atlantic are enabling their aircraft fleet to be fueled with low-carbon aviation biofuel that meets international standards because it is a drop in substitute to JET A1. In the short to medium term, this is the most viable route for their industry to reduce emissions. This is because alternative fuels such as hydrogen require new engines to be developed, and you can’t electrify planes as easily as cars because the poor energy density of today’s batteries makes them too heavy to get off the ground.
At Sunbird Bioenergy we are trialing a number of agricultural oil seed crops such as camelina and castor to produce aviation biofuel. Many of the African countries where we operate have available land and water resources for these large scale agricultural projects, and economically benefit from job creation, import substitution, energy security, as well as meeting their COP-21 targets. Other companies are making significant progress with other sustainable feedstock such as agricultural residues and municipal solid waste (“MSW”).
To meet their industry targets, the airlines require one (1) million tonnes of aviation biofuel by 2022. The most advanced country is Norway who blend just 0.5% aviation biofuel. This is a very long way from airlines requirement to reduce emissions by 50% by 2050 to decarbonise their industry.
In the past, the use of aviation biofuels was usually driven by a lack of petrochemicals. However, today this not the case due to the historically low-price of fuel due to the slowdown caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. We There is a concern that the low-fuel prices will incentivise airlines to put emissions reductions on the back burner. What is needed is for regulators is to ensure that environmental impact remain a priority issue for airlines.
Airline COVID-19 bailouts should be conditional upon airlines committing to emission reduction targets to decarbonise their industry; aviation biofuel (Jet A1) can be produced competitively today, and this will provide incentive to develop long-term solutions such as increasing the energy density of batteries.
QuickTake by Bloomberg takes a look at the benefits and hurdles of airlines switching to biofuels: