Looking at alternative sources for aviation fuel is a must for two reasons. First, people don’t want to stop flying. Most projections show that global demand for aviation will grow at five per cent annually for at least the next 15 years, accounting by 2050 for 15–20 per cent of all global greenhouse gas emission. Second, the aviation industry’s emissions targets are soon to be limited through their incorporation in the EU Emissions Trading System and by becoming part of the UK’s carbon budgets.
Step in the Policy Exchange’s latest research note, ‘Green skies thinking’, published on 22 July 2009, which advocates the progressive replacement of standard kerosene jet fuel with sustainable bio-jet fuels. Starting in 2020, the EU-wide Sustainable Bio-jet Fuel Blending Mandate would set enforceable replacement targets and, it is claimed, result in reductions of greenhouse gas emissions from the UK and EU aviation sectors of 15 percent in 2020 and 60 per cent in 2050, relative to current predictions.
Green-skies thinking proposes a set of clear imperatives for introducing the deployment and demand of these fuels:
1 Mandate that an increasing proportion of sustainable bio-jet fuels is used in flights departing EU airports on internal and international flights. This would send credible long-term signals to the developers of sustainable bio-jet fuels, so they can increase production in the timescales required.
2 Offer better support in terms of R&D into the production of sustainable bio-jet fuels in the UK. It is proposed that this be achieved through extending the R&D tax credit regime for companies that conduct research into sustainable bio-jet fuels in the UK, and making R&D into sustainable bio-jet fuels eligible to apply for support from government research bodies and funds, such as the £150 million Innovation Fund announced in June 2009.
3 Invest in the methodologies and regulatory bodies needed to ensure that bio-jet fuels are produced sustainably and deliver life-cycle greenhouse gas emission reductions. The Renewable Fuels Agency (currently the administrative body for the Renewable Transport Fuel Obligation) is to be charged with drawing up and enforcing these standards.
So what about the land v biofuel debate? ‘Green skies thinking’ tells us that the land use is marginal and ‘in profound contrast to the amount of land needed to cultivate sufficient feedstock to meet road-transport fuel demand with biofuels’ . I would be interested in finding out where it is proposed for these crops to be grown, since the last thing the bio-jet fuel industry needs is another palm-oil debacle. There are also a few fundamental hurdles for bio-jet fuels to overcome, eg: bio-jet fuels and feedstocks are not yet certified, though we are told this is expected to happen between 2009 and 2013.
So, should we fly less? It was pleasing to observe that the Policy Exchange was not merely one-sided and to hear it acknowledged that we do need to think about flying less. Still, given trends of increasing air travel, taking a preventative measure such as switching from standard jet fuel to sustainable bio-jet fuel may be one of the only viable options for significantly reducing emissions from air travel.