Aviation needs to change
Aviation plays a central role in modern economies. It enables international
mobility, business, and tourism. It facilitates the worldwide movement of cargo, from fresh food to essential medicines, enabling businesses to develop international export markets and contributing to consumer choice.
At the same time, aviation's environmental impact is real and growing. Between 2000 and 2019, global aviation activity (measured in RPKs, Revenue Passenger Kilometres) grew 2.7-fold.
Even though modern aircraft and engines are more efficient than previous generations, these efficiency improvements are far outweighed by industry growth.
In 2019 the aviation industry accounted for about 2.5% of global CO2 emissions (915 MT of CO2), but this is forecast to rise to about 3.5% by 2030. This share is higher in developed economies: aviation accounts for about 14% of EU transport emissions.
Aviation is one of the hardest sectors to decarbonise. Because aircraft have to lift their fuel and carry it with them, they require energy-dense fuels which can provide high power outputs. Battery electric power may have the potential to revolutionise road transport, but batteries as a power source for aviation are likely to be limited to smaller and shorter-range aircraft, at least for the next couple of decades. Hydrogen power has considerable potential but will require a whole new generation of aircraft, engines, and fuel infrastructure, so is 20-30 years away.
In the short and medium term, sustainable aviation fuels (SAFs) will be a key enabler of reduced aviation emissions. These can be biofuels, produced from feedstocks like biomass crops, agro-forestry waste, or municipal waste, or in the future, synthetic fuels ("e-fuels") manufactured from carbon and hydrogen. Because these fuels are not derived from fossil sources, and provided that renewable energy is used to produce them, they don't contribute to increased atmospheric CO2.
Today, SAF production accounts for only a tiny fraction of total aviation fuel, but the International Energy Agency's Sustainable Development Scenario (SDS) anticipates that biofuels could meet around 10% of aviation fuel demand by 2030, and close to 20% by 2040. To achieve this, SAF volumes need to increase greatly, which will also reduce the SAF price disadvantage compared to conventional fossil fuel.
Altair is currently working on the development of business plans for SAF production facilities. Altair is also involved in developing a financing mechanism which will allow airlines to commit to sustainable fuel usage and reduce SAF costs.