Why Sustainable Alternative Fuels for Aviation are Important
Engineering improvements, technology enhancements, and advanced operations (including efficiency improvements in air traffic management) all have a role to play to reduce aviation fuel use and associated carbon emissions. Significant progress has been made in establishing technology goals for reducing aircraft greenhouse gas emissions. On a per-flight basis, efficiency is expected to improve continuously through 2050 and beyond. ICAO is spearheading efforts to promote and harmonize worldwide initiatives for operational practices that result in reducing aviation’s contributions to anthropogenic emissions. However, even under the most aggressive technology forecast scenarios, the anticipated gain in efficiency from technological and operational measures does not offset the overall emissions generated by the expected growth in traffic. The gap between air transport emissions growth reduced by efficiency improvements and a chosen lower level of emissions represents a “mitigation gap” that must be closed using other strategies.
A promising approach toward closing the GHG emissions mitigation gap is the development and use of sustainable alternative fuels for aviation. Today such fuels are not available in sufficient quantities to meet the overall fuel demand for commercial aviation. Sustainable drop-in alternative fuels produced from biomass or renewable oils offer the potential to reduce life-cycle greenhouse gas emissions and therefore reduce aviation’s contribution to global climate change. They could be an important tool in the efforts to close the mitigation gap while allowing the sector to respond to growing demand. Using these fuels may also offer reduced emissions of particulate matter, lessening aviation’s impact on air quality, as the result of the significantly lower fuel sulphur content.
Finally, as aviation is heavily dependent over a short- and medium-term horizon on drop-in liquid fuels, the development and use of sustainable alternative fuels will play an active role in improving the overall resource allocation and security of supply, stabilize fuel prices.
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