Rising up to the challenges presented by climate change will be a defining political and industrial ambition in the years to come.
The shift towards a zero and low-carbon economy in Europe will require a radical overhaul of current policies. Doing so, however, would enable robust economic development and limit the rise in global temperatures to well below 2˚C, possibly as close as possible to 1.5˚C.
Decarbonization of the harder-to-abate sectors is possible, both economically and technologically. It also represents a massive opportunity for Europe to spearhead the global development of a new climate economy. Reducing aviation’s carbon footprint and its dependency on fossil fuels will ultimately depend on the development of novel and sustainable jet fuels, bio or synthetic.
Sustainable Aviation Fuels (SAFs) are obtained from sources other than petroleum, such as woody biomass, recycled waste or other renewable sources, whilst avoiding other adverse sustainability impacts (e.g. land use). These innovative fuels reduce emissions through their production process. They can also be mixed with conventional fossil-based aviation fuels. The use of these fuels does not require any modifications to aircraft, turbines or refueling infrastructure. They are able to reduce direct ‘well-to-wake’ CO2 emissions by up to 70% compared to fossil fuels.Compared to the ICAO reference level of GHG emissions from fossil-based aviation fuel baseline set at 89 gCO2 eq/MJ.
Whilst the technology behind SAFs is proven and certified, SAF production currently accounts for less than 0.1% of total jet fuel demand. High costs, an absence of incentives for airlines and operators and fragmented regulations are to blame for the current stalemate. The deployment of such fuels is less dependent on the technological feasibility of the innovation than on the implementation of the right energy framework.
A dedicated industrial strategy for sustainable aviation fuels in Europe is urgently needed. It should:
- drive the creation of additional SAF production capacity in Europe (access to finance, loans, grants to facilitate scaling-up of plants);
- stimulate the production and availability of raw materials, including imports;
- Develop hydrogen, Carbon Capture and Storage, renewable electricity for electrofuels;
- Accelerate Research and Development programs, e.g. to expand the feedstock base to market introduction;
- Support mechanisms to cover additional costs for products delivered into the market;
- Include a regulation built on clear objectives, containing an aviation-specific robust Life Cycle Assessment (LCA)/validation methodology that is neutral towards conversion technology and raw materials.
Supervised by the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Mobility and Transport, these elements of the strategy need to be closely coordinated with Europe’s future energy, climate, innovation and research policies. At EU and national levels, funding should be earmarked to support the production and market launch of novel fuels.
Coldplay’s Chris Martin is busy looking for solutions to make the band’s touring carbon neutral. Sustainable Aviation Fuels can reduce the environmental impact of European aviation whilst also limiting the sector’s exposure to crude oil price volatility, increase Europe’s energy independence and creating home-grown green growth. The upcoming Green Deal is a unique opportunity to set into motion the deployment of this technology. And provide Mr. Martin with the solution his fans around the world are desperately looking for.
“Trying our best, but not succeeding” is not an option for Europe’s future industrial strategy. If supporting growth and connectivity and limiting social and regional discrimination is what Europe wants and what it needs — then fixing the regulatory failure of SAFs in Europe should be its utmost priority.Coldplay, Fix You, 2011