DESIGN AND ENGINEERING

Aviation Unveils the Path to Zero-Carbon Emission for the Future

Anusree Bhattacharya | December 28, 2021

Can the aviation industry have a net zero-carbon emissions? Can technology assist in achieving net-zero emissions?

Presently, customers are taking more flights than ever as the industry is set to grow post-pandemic effects. Data from IATA shows that the UK aviation industry alone ejected thirty-seven million tonnes of CO2 into the atmosphere in 2020. That’s an average of 9% more in tonnes of emission the industry recorded in 2018.

The warnings are transparent. In the latest reports of Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the effects of global warming are escalating.

“We know the challenges of climate change the world is facing. It has only continued to intensify,”

- Nicholas Calio, president and CEO of Airlines for America

Airlines are subsequently embracing their actions towards the recovery of their business. There is a need to take even braver, more momentous steps to address this challenge.

Airlines have been focused on carbon offset programs for years. It has previously invested in projects and organizations that assist in reducing the impact of CO2 emissions.

In March 2021, the U.S. airline industry announced that its market leaders are committed to achieving zero carbon emissions by 2050.

The aviation industry is currently rising at between 4% and 5% a year. And the number of passengers will double every 15-20 years. How will the industry let fly with zero emissions? Certain plans strongly focus on the increasing use of sustainable aviation fuel and jet fuel. These fuels are produced from sources such as plant oils, municipal waste, agricultural residue, fossil fuels, and other interim steps.

The blog accumulates some of the best ways that aviation has unveiled on the grounds of zero carbon emissions.


Escalating the Use of Alternative Fuel

The escalating use of alternative fuels is perhaps the most significant proposed carbon reduction initiative for sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) usage. Sustainable fuel is going to be created from plant or animal material. One of the examples is waste oil.

It is studied that SAF has the potential to cut life-cycle emissions from aviation by 80%. It can be blended with conventional jet fuel without making major changes in aircraft designs. But, as technology is concerned with SAF usage, it can be eight times more expensive than conventional jet fuel. SAF currently values less than 0.1% of the almost 300 million tonnes of fuel that commercial airlines use every day.

some companies are taking regulatory incentives in joint efforts with aviation after looking at the costs and ensuring that more SAF is used in the future.  Let’s see which corporate companies are setting commendable aviation-related commitments.
  • Microsoft partnered with Alaska Airlines. Together, they are working to cover CO2 emissions to make their employees’ travel safe by introducing SAF credits.
  • FedEx has committed to purchase 13 million liters of sustainable aviation fuel from Red Rock Biofuel. It is a part of their long-term net-zero emission strategy.
  • Express GBT created an alliance to help in increasing supply SAF to under carbon reduction initiative and become zero carbon-emitting by 2050.


Industry-Wide Efforts

The path to climate recovery with zero airline emissions will require a collective effort from all industries. This also includes governments. They must take responsibility for the impact of certain activities, products, and policies have on the environment. The production of fossil fuels is one of them. So, the aviation industry must reduce its dependency on fossil fuels for air travel.

Industries such as energy, road transport, infrastructure, manufacturing, and finance are being collectively responsible for creating a risk-free airline emission. For example, policies of energy transition must include a change in the production plan. Road transport efforts should be advanced by designing electric vehicles. Manufacturers should bring in new technology to support the creation of lightweight engines and aircraft parts. All of them should join hands for a sustainable future for aviation.


The Role of Government Investments

Government bodies play a crucial role in heading up carbon reduction initiatives. The initiative will have solutions such as new aircraft technology and more efficient infrastructure and operations. It also includes the development of zero-carbon energy sources like hydrogen and electric power generation.

According to IATA, 1.8 gigatons of carbon will be required to sustain the aviation industry in 2050. The prediction can achieve 65% of carbon for sustainable aviation fuels.

What are other solutions in demand to commit to addressing a zero-emission environment? It includes:
  • Fuel-producing companies are to bring large-scale, cost-competitive sustainable aviation fuels (SAF) to the market.
  • Governments and air navigation service providers (ANSPs) eliminate inadequacies in air traffic management and airspace infrastructure.
  • Aircraft and engine manufacturers produce more efficient aircraft engines and propulsion technologies.
  • Airport operators provide the required infrastructure to supply cost-effective SAF.


Airline Firms Decarbonizing Aviation

Presently, aviation is driving towards a new chapter of growth. And the pillars of growth are the firms that are continuously making efforts to make aviation a risk-free industry.

Let’s see how aviation firms are contributing to making a zero-carbon emission sky for safe air travel for the future.

Delta Airlines

Delta and Aviation Climate Taskforce are initiating technological innovation and accelerating the research and development of emerging technologies. Emerging technologies refer to reducing CO2 footprint production. They are focusing on their approach towards medium-term solutions, near-term solutions and long terms solutions.

The mid-term solutions include synthetic fuel. The near-term solutions focus on emerging bio-based Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF) pathways.  And long-term solutions include hydrogen technologies. ACT will aim to support the advancement of these technologies through two crucial pillars:
  • An Innovation Network
  • A Collaboration Forum


JetBlue

JetBlue went carbon neutral for all its flights. It went through carbon offset programs in partnership with the CarbonFund.org Foundation. The investment included solar, wind, and hydrogen-energy project initiatives.

Apart from this, JetBlue also invested in hundreds of global carbon offset programs to support renewable energy efforts.

“views carbon initiative as a platform for other industry-wide environmental improvements that support lower emissions.”

- JetBlue

The best part is that JetBlue also invested in sustainable aviation fuel on flights. They are currently operating from San Francisco International Airport.


American Airlines

American Airlines changed its strategy of using traditional jet fuel. The airline has committed to purchase 9 million gallons of SAF to lower CO2 emissions in the next three years.


Southwest Airlines

On Earth Day 2021, Southwest Airlines announced it would continue to support the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL). NREL works to develop cost-effective low-carbon aviation fuels that are generated from waste.

The airline SAF will play a vital role in getting the atmosphere carbon neutral and will be able to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050. On this, NREL estimates that wet waste typically produces enough energy to provide about 20% of jet fuel consumption.


How Will the Industry Embrace Greener Air Travel Once It Returns to the Sky?

There is a buzz that travelers are now becoming more conscious of the environment. Inspired by Greta Thunberg, a Swedish climate change activist after the pandemic, a growing wave of eco-conscious travelers are choosing to fly with more environmentally friendly airlines. They are also opting for other means of transportation.

As the aviation industry accounts for 2.5 percent of global carbon emissions, travelers now want to be associated with greater environmental awareness. They are taking some essential steps such as:
  • Asking whether a flight is necessary for travel
  • Booking a flight that travels nonstop
  • Keeping a check on airlines that promote carbon reduction goals

On the other hand, airline companies today are opting to monitor themselves. They are doing it within the parameters of emissions, manufacturing, and embracing technological aspects.

Frequently Asked Questions


How can air travel become more environmentally friendly?

You can follow some travel tips such as:
  1. Opt for a direct destination flight
  2. Find alternatives to travel other than flight (if not necessary)
  3. Carry lesser or lighter luggage
  4. Try to produce lesser waste
  5. Choose a sustainable flight


How are airline firms reducing emissions from their flights?

Airline firms are continuously working towards reducing emissions in several ways. They are:
  1. By retiring old aircraft
  2. By updating air traffic routes to reduce fuel consumption
  3. By investing in newer technologies in the manufacturing process and other fields
  4. By participating in electricity generation and other sources of fuel generation


Which are the most eco-friendly airlines?

The most eco-friendly airlines are:
  1. Air France
  2. United Airlines
  3. JetBlue
  4. Delta Airlines
  5. Virgin Airlines
  6.  Alaska Airlines

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Extant Aerospace manufactures and supplies complex electronic assemblies to the DOD and international customers for military and commercial applications.

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