Airlines are unlikely to meet even their own delayed targets for reducing the sector’s carbon emissions, even though science can deliver a perfectly good jet fuel from algae and a variety of other organic non-fossil feedstocks, an analysis by Biofuels Digest concludes.
Last October, the global aviation industry released an emissions containment plan that relied mainly on a combination of carbon offsets and anticipated improvements in aircraft efficiency to reduce emissions. The system is voluntary until 2026, and falls far short of the industry’s long-held promise to achieve carbon neutrality by 2020.
“Absent an aggressive introduction of renewable fuels, airlines will miss their carbon targets, and badly,” Biofuels Digest concludes, citing researchers at Utrecht University. Several airlines have flown selected flights on biofuel, but it contributes only a tiny fraction of aviation fuel consumed by commercial carriers—about 0.12% of the 83 billion gallons that airlines burn every year.
To make a meaningful contribution to what the Utrecht analysis describes as a widening “gap” between the industry’s carbon-neutral commitment and what it can achieve through efficiency and offsets—especially as the latter become scarcer after 2030—the industry will face some significant costs.
Biofuel, the researchers calculate, currently costs €762 per ton more than fossil jet fuel. As a means of mitigating emissions, it costs €242 per ton of avoided CO2, a large multiple of recent carbon offset prices in Europe’s mitigation market. On that basis, they conclude, “a level playing field will likely be inadequate to stimulate RJF [Renewable Jet Fuel] uptake. Supplementary measures, such as guaranteed feed-in tariffs, are necessary.”
The researchers suggest “a modest surcharge” of € 0.90 to €4.10 per airline ticket, collected into and distributed through a €10-billion “renewable jet fuel deployment fund,” to achieve 5% market penetration for biofuel by 2030. If airlines adopted biofuels instead of relying on offsets to achieve their carbon neutrality targets, renewables fuel could deliver as much as 20% of supply by then.
Based on anticipated air travel in, to, and from Europe over the next decade, that total “comes down to an extra cost of €0.0007 per passenger-kilometre. It’s not even a rounding error. You’d have to fly 1,400 kilometers to rack up an extra Euro in cost.”