Alternative solutions on the horizon with a goal to reduce emissions
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The cleaner the air, the better for all of us
As of 2019 there were 4.5 billion people travelling globally by jet airplane. By 2020, when the pandemic hit, we know that almost all traveling came to a standstill. The biggest benefit from that was reduced carbon emissions. Now it’s 2022 and the pent up frustration has been unleashed with record high numbers of travelers circumnavigating the globe amidst worker shortages, reduced routes, and clogged lines everywhere.
Climate change activists have been decrying using jets to fly around the world because jets have high carbon emissions which in turn raise GHGs (greenhouse gas). Some have said it’s as high as 8% while others argue it’s higher. In reality, the numbers are lower. Since flying isn’t going to go away anytime soon, the solution is in new ways of operating the airline industry.
What sustainable advances are being made in the airline industry?
- SAF – Sustainable Aviation Fuel
- Sustainable aircraft
- Carbon emission sustainable development goals
What is sustainable aviation fuel?
An alternative to fossil fuel, is sustainable aviation fuel, or SAF for short. It is made from recycled products such as cooking oil, agricultural waste, carbon captured from the air, and green hydrogen. The variety of sources it comes from are known as feedstocks.
SAF is combined with jet fuel in a 50/50 mix. It reduces carbon emissions by as much as 80%.
It is being used now at airports around the world and by many airlines globally. It is the best we can do for now while other methods of fuel such as hydrogen and electric are being developed for the future.
The problem with SAF is that its four times more expensive than petroleum based fuel. Airline executives cite that in order for more SAF to be produced, there needs to policy incentives. Similar to how governments stepped up to meet vaccine production for the pandemic. It can be done but requires a coordinated effort by governments and private capital investors.
What type of new aircraft is being made with sustainability in mind?
Jet aircraft typically has a lifespan of up to 30 years. Eventually they get old and worn and are not as efficient as they once were. Just like any technology, upgrades and replacements are required. As many as 700 jets get retired in one year.
And while it’s expensive to replace old jets with new jets the plan that some airlines have is to introduce new technology all together. For example, United Airlines goal is delivering the new Boom supersonic aircraft to its fleet by 2029. Read about it here. As expensive as it sounds, United plans on reducing the cost of tickets to passengers to as low as $100 on this streamlined service. That sounds very promising to the avid traveler! Sustainable travel is a real promise coming to fruition in many ways.
What are airlines doing about sustainable development goals?
Almost all airlines have a sustainability plan in action. From using SAF to upgrading fleet, they understand the need to reduce carbon emissions as soon as possible. Thus why many have already turned to using SAF.
Many airlines cite a goal on the horizon of either 2040 or 2050 to reach big reductions in the aviation carbon footprint. While climate change activists say that might be too late, the reality is that it is being worked on. It takes time to develop and implement a wide-reaching plan to change the way the airline industry operates.
The aviation industry is moving boldly to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2050
The aviation industry is working on meeting the challenges to find sustainable (long term) solutions to not only curbing emissions, but to upgrade the methods used for jet travel. Much of what we can expect depends on new technologies. For example, KLM recently made its first test run of a flight using synthetic fuel. Norway plans on developing electric planes to be used for short haul flights such as from one small island to another.
The giant airplane maker, Airbus, is developing and testing three types of hydrogen planes with plans to have at least one in service by 2035. Still, other airlines are using AI technology to find ways of reducing current fuel costs and reduce CO2 emissions. Air traffic control in the US is upgrading its current computer technology to a system that will improve the flow of planes thereby becoming more efficient leading to further reductions in emissions.
All of these methods and new technologies sound promising in the effort to fight climate change.