The UK aviation group Sustainable Aviation produced a road-map shortly before Christmas which outlines the industry’s perspective of the future potential of alternative fuels in the UK aviation sector.
According to Sustainable Aviation, the UK could produce and export alternative fuels but significant Government support would be required. The road-map recommends: allowing alternative fuel producers to claim Renewable Transport Fuels Obligation certificates for aviation fuels to bring these in line with road transport fuels; providing financial support through the Green Investment Bank; and giving greater priority to the research and development of sustainable fuels.
According to the report, alternative fuels could reduce UK aviation emissions by 15-24% by 2050 based on a 25-40% penetration of sustainable fuels into the global aviation fuel market. The estimate is much higher than figures from academics and official sources.
Manchester Metropolitan University’s Professor David Lee assessed that globally, in a likely scenario, alternative fuel use could cut emissions by 5% by 2050. UK Government forecasts anticipate biofuels taking up only 2.5% of aviation fuel by 2050.
Emissions savings from alternative fuels depend on the uptake of the fuels and the net emissions savings from using alternative fuels calculated using a life-cycle analysis (LCA).
A life-cycle analysis includes direct and indirect emissions resulting from land use changes to grow alternative fuels, all stages of fuel production and distribution and use of the finished fuel. Historically, the aviation industry has estimated lifecycle emissions savings of 80% compared to conventional fuel but the UK Committee on Climate Change estimated (p96) in 2009 that lifecycle emissions savings for biofuels in aviation would be lower at around 50%.
We support efforts by the aviation industry to reduce its emissions, including through the use of sustainable biofuels if they can meet the following criteria:
In practice the amount of sustainable biofuel available for use in aircraft will depend on a number of factors, including demand for such fuel from other sectors similarly keen to reduce emissions.
More information on alternative fuels in aviation is available here.