Flight and Climate: Airlines under pressure to reduce emissions

Is The worst pandemic may be over But the industry is facing another crisis. It is the accounting for contributions to climate change.

The industry is under pressure to do something to reduce it, and ultimately Eliminate emissions from travel, But it’s not easy. Some solutions, such as hydrogen fuel cells, are promising, but it is unclear when they will be available. As a result, companies have few options. You can either tweak to narrow down efficiency, wait for technology to improve, or invest today to create viable options for the future.

“This is a big crisis and an imminent crisis. We need to do a lot right away,” said Jagoda, an aviation policy expert at the International Transport Forum, a division of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).・ Mr. Egerland said. “This is a difficult area to decline. It always emits some carbon.”

According to experts, commercial air travel accounts for about 3-4% of total greenhouse gas emissions in the United States. Airplanes are becoming more efficient with each new model, but the growing demand for flights outweighs those advances. The United Nations has announced that carbon dioxide, a major greenhouse gas, is emitted from airplanes. Triple by 2050Researchers of the International Clean Transport Council Emissions can increase even faster..

Before the pandemic, “Shame” movementThe aim of prioritizing environmentally friendly options such as railroads and discouraging air travel has gained worldwide support thanks to Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg. There were early signs that air travel in Sweden may have declined. Germany And SwedenCurrently, French lawmakers are considering banning short flights such as: Can be substituted by train movement..

Investors Promoting business Further disclosure of efforts to lobby lawmakers on climate issues. And among the big companies, where employees are scattered all over the world and fill up luxury business class seats, Review your travel budget Reduce costs and emissions.

The urgency of the industry has not been lost. United Airlines CEO Scott Kirby often talks about the need to deal with climate change, but even he admits that it’s difficult for the industry to clean up its behavior. He wants United and other airlines to experiment and see what works.

“This is the biggest long-term problem our generation faces. It’s the biggest risk to the planet,” Kirby said in a recent interview. “There are many things we can compete with, but we should all strive to make a difference in climate change.”

There are efforts to electrify small planes for short flights. One is supported by United — But it’s difficult and probably impossible to do the same on longer, larger flights. Commercial aircraft such as the Boeing 787 and Airbus A320 can carry hundreds of passengers, but they require enormous amounts of energy to reach cruising altitudes.

At some point, hydrogen fuel cells and synthetic jet fuels could help decarbonize the industry, and pilot projects have already begun, primarily in Europe. Zero emission aircraft by 2035. Boeing focuses on Development of more fuel efficient airplanes And we are working to ensure that all commercial aircraft can fly exclusively. “Sustainable” jet fuel Made from waste, plants and other organic matter.

A petrochemical plant outside Houston is converting undistilled diesel imported by Neste US and Texmark Chemicals into renewable jet fuel. Undistilled diesel is made from used cooking oil and waste from plant and animal processing plants.

The Finnish company Neste is the world’s largest producer of renewable jet fuel. US customers include American Airlines, JetBlue Airlines and Delta Air Lines.

United, which purchases renewable jet fuel from Fulcrum BioEnergy and World Energy, recently announced contracts with more than 12 major corporate customers, including Deloitte, HP and Nike. Approximately 3.4 million gallons of sustainable fuel this year. American Airlines has agreed to buy 9 million gallons of fuel over the next few years, and Delta says it plans to replace one-tenth of its jet fuel with sustainable alternative fuels by 2030.

“Sustainable aviation fuel has great growth potential,” said Jeremy Baines, President of Neste US. “It’s a niche market today, but it’s growing very fast. From today to 2023, we plan to increase production by at least 15 times.”

Neste produces 35 million gallons of renewable aviation fuel and hopes to reach 515 million gallons annually by the end of 2023 by increasing production at refineries in Rotterdam, Singapore and the Netherlands. .. This is enough to fuel nearly 40,000 flights by wide-body aircraft between New York and London, or more than a year before the pandemic between the two cities.

However, it is important to keep these numbers in mind.U.S. airlines used more 18 billion gallons of fuel in 2019The country consumes more than 100 billion gallons of petroleum products annually.

Norwegian consulting firm Rystad Energy predicts that renewable fuels will become increasingly economical after 2030 and will supply 30% of all aviation fuel by 2050. All jet fuel by 2050.

Renewable jet fuel also has its limits. According to Daniel Evans, Global Head of Refining and Marketing at IHS Markit, this fuel reduces carbon dioxide emissions by only 30-50% compared to traditional jet fuel. In addition, fuel production can cause deforestation when raw materials are cultivated.

Some companies want to avoid these problems by avoiding crops. Fulcrum, which United is investing in, plans to build a plant in the UK to produce jet fuel from landfills and other waste. A Colorado company, Red Rock Biofuels, wants to use waste woody biomass.

However, the development of renewable fuels from waste and substances such as fast-growing algae and switchgrass is irritatingly slow.

“It’s going to be really hard,” Evans said. “Even if you burn 100% biofuel, it’s not carbon-neutral.”

Biofuels are about 50% more expensive than traditional fuels, according to Michael E. Webber, chief science and technology officer at Engie, a French utility company working on cutting-edge jet fuel.

Hydrogen offers another possibility, but probably not for decades. Future hydrogen-powered aircraft may operate on hydrogen tanks and fuel cells instead of batteries and fuel engines, but technological advances are needed to reduce the size of tanks and cells. Hydrogen can be produced from renewable energy sources such as the wind and the sun to reduce global warming emissions. However, experts say that such fuels cost two to three times as much as traditional fuels.

Some European countries require refiners to produce and mix renewable jet fuel. The European Union is financially supporting the development of Airbus hydrogen-fueled aircraft, and the French government is encouraging Air France to study synthetic jet fuel.

In the United States, federal support has been minimal so far. Renewable jet fuel producers will receive a $ 1 per gallon subsidy based on the existing federal tax credit for biodiesel, but the bill submitted to the House of Representatives this month starts at $ 1.5 per gallon. Tax credits will be provided.

Another option that many airlines are paying attention to is Carbon offsetBy purchasing an offset, a company or individual effectively pays others to plant a tree or take other steps to reduce greenhouse gases.

However, it can be difficult to measure the benefits of offsets. For example, it is difficult to know if a landowner has cut down a tree without being paid to conserve the forest, which is a common type of offset. Kirby, CEO of United, is skeptical that such offsetting is effective.

“Traditional carbon offsets are a marketing initiative. They are doing greenwashing,” he said. “They are very small, even in the few cases where they are real and make a difference. Therefore, it cannot be scaled up to solve global problems. “

United is helping passengers and business customers buy offsets, but Kirby said the company is focused on sustainable fuels and the permanent removal and storage of carbon.

In December, the airline announced that it was investing in 1PointFive, a joint venture between Occidental Petroleum and a private equity fund. This approach, in theory, allows United Airlines and other airlines to remove as much carbon from the atmosphere as the plane put into the atmosphere.

“The only solution I know helps to zero the planet. Other solutions don’t work even if I understand math,” Kirby said.

Such efforts have long been rejected as unrealistic, Companies are pouring more and more money Investors and activists are urging companies to decarbonize. Kirby said these investments would help reduce costs. However, some experts warn that while capturing air directly can help industries that are difficult to decarbonize, the ultimate goal is to attack the source of the problem.

“If you can avoid emissions in the first place, it’s much cheaper and easier than undoing emissions,” said Jennifer Wilcox, a Department of Energy official and direct air capture expert.

Despite the formidable challenges, Kirby is optimistic that investing in alternative fuels and carbon capture technology will bring breakthroughs.

“In the short term, it’s important to get them to work financially,” he said. “When that threshold is exceeded, it increases exponentially.”

Flight and Climate: Airlines under pressure to reduce emissions

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