Over the past few years, there has been increased awareness about aviation’s harmful effects on the environment and its role in global warming. The International Energy Agency reports that the global aviation industry is responsible for more than 2% of the planet’s carbon emissions and is projected to increase in the next several years.
As a response to the looming dangers of climate change, many have scrambled to find alternative energy sources. However, this comes with the challenge of integrating the use of these eco-friendly fuels into the international aviation market.
According to John Holland-Kaye, the Chief Executive Officer of Heathrow Airport in London, the best way to effectively combat the global concern regarding volatile carbon emissions is for airline companies to use a green energy source called sustainable aviation fuel (SAF).
SAF is an alternative jet fuel derived from biological and renewable feedstocks such as crops, used cooking oils, wood waste, and animal fat waste instead of crude oil or liquid petroleum. Using SAF can lessen greenhouse gas emissions by 80%.
According to Anastacia Davies, the head of BloombergNEF’s research on renewable fuels, many airline companies have shown interest in adopting SAF into their operations. Several airlines at 2 commercial airports in California are now using SAF. Additionally, over 30 airline firms have announced that they will use sustainable fuel for around 10% of their energy source by 2030.
In what is known as the “world’s first net-zero transatlantic flight,” Virgin Atlantic will fly a commercial plane from London to New York this year using only SAF. Additionally, United Airlines Holdings Inc. has launched a marketing campaign that advertises the environmentally friendly power source in the hopes of raising awareness about better alternative jet fuel.
Following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the cost of crude oil has seen a drastic increase. Fatih Birol, the executive director of the International Energy Agency, said this event caused many airlines to invest in renewable and alternative fuels like SAF to stock up on energy sources. However, he claims this is not enough to secure a permanent increase in SAF usage in the aviation industry.
Despite the environmental benefits of SAF, transitioning to green fuel can be challenging for many airlines as it is typically 2 to 8 times more expensive than non-SAF jet fuel. For reference, conventional jet fuel costs approximately USD 2.76 per gallon as of March this year, based on reports by the International Air Transport Association.
The Federal Aviation Administration made efforts to increase SAF consumption in commercial airlines in the U.S. by setting a goal for airlines in the U.S. to use 1 billion gallons of SAF yearly. However, U.S. airlines failed to reach this target number.
According to the World Economic Forum, SAF only made up 0.1% of the total usage of jet fuel in commercial aviation in 2019.
The steep price of SAF hinders its mainstream and widespread use. Efforts have been made by various companies and airlines to promote the environmentally friendly energy source, but more work needs to be done for the aviation industry to achieve a successful transition to green fuel.
Due to the high cost of SAF, Holland-Kaye suggested that wealthy travelers and companies should shoulder the extra expenses by paying more than other passengers.
With the wealthy paying more, airlines can afford to use SAF for their commercial flights while maintaining the ordinary passengers’ airfare price, especially airfare prices for those in developing countries. He adds that rich individuals and first-world countries should fund the aviation industry’s transition to SAF. With this funding, sustainable fuel prices will eventually decrease and therefore be more accessible and affordable to the mass market. In turn, SAF will be more widely used for commercial flights all over the globe.
Additionally. Holland-Kaye added that companies can contribute meaningfully to the aviation industry’s transition to SAF as work travel is responsible for approximately 30% of the fuel used in global flights. He recommends implementing policies similar to what the Microsoft Corporation has done, where business constituents make additional payments based on their flight’s carbon emissions.
Birol similarly emphasized the importance of funding SAF as a means to combat climate change. He said that we are now investing USD 1.50 in green energy sources like SAF for every dollar invested in fossil fuels. We need to increase our investments in renewable energy to USD 9 to keep global warming from exceeding 1.5 degrees Celsius.
Ultimately, there is a long and challenging path to trek before the aviation industry sees a complete transition to SAF. However, as proven by the approaches suggested by various professionals, there are numerous ways to speed up the process toward the mainstream usage of green fuel and, by extension, cleaner worldwide aviation.
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