The anticipated gain in efficiency from technological and operational measures does not offset the overall emissions that are forecast to be generated by the expected growth in traffic. To achieve the sustainability of air transport, other strategies will be needed to compensate for the emissions growth not achieved through efficiency improvements.
A promising approach toward closing this GHG emissions mitigation gap is the development and use of sustainable alternative fuels for aviation. Although such fuels already exist, they are not yet available in sufficient quantities to meet the overall fuel demand for commercial aviation.
Drop-in fuels are substitutes for conventional jet fuel that are completely interchangeable and compatible with conventional jet fuel. The reduction in GHG emissions from the use of drop-in fuels developed from renewable, sustainable sources is the result of lower GHG emissions from the extraction, production and combustion of the fuel. 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.
Over the short and medium-term horizon, aviation will be heavily dependent on drop-in liquid fuels and the development and use of sustainable alternative fuels will play an active role in improving the overall security of supply, and will stabilize fuel prices.
The Situation Today
For some time now, sustainable alternative fuels for aviation have been the focus of the aviation industry. Today, various consortia for the development of such fuels have been established and new initiatives are underway.
During the past year, the qualification of some types of fuels was completed, and currently the qualification of others is well advanced. Of particular importance is the ASTM D-7566 Standard Specification for Aviation Turbine Fuel Containing Synthesized Hydrocarbons that was approved on 1 September 2009, since it was the first new jet fuel approval in 20 years!
In November 2009, ICAO held a Conference on Aviation and Alternative Fuels (CAAF) (see www.icao.int/caaf2009/) to showcase the state-of-the-art in aviation alternative fuels. The Conference also addressed the key issues of sustainability, feasibility, economics, production, and infrastructure. At the Conference, States agreed to develop, deploy and use sustainable alternative fuels to reduce aviation emissions. To facilitate, on a global basis, the promotion and harmonization of initiatives that encourage and support the development of sustainable alternative fuels for aviation, the Conference established an ICAO Global Framework for Aviation Alternative Fuels (GFAAF).
Today, sustainable alternative fuels offer the potential to reduce aviation environmental impacts, but are not yet available in quantities sufficient to meet the overall demand by commercial aviation. The cost and availability of sustainable alternative fuels for aviation remain key barriers to their large scale adoption.
The testing of new fuels and the establishment of new production facilities require significant capital investment. In addition, since aviation represents less than 5% of the world’s liquid fuel consumption, it is possible that fuel producers may initially target larger markets. If the use of alternative fuels is to be part of a comprehensive strategy for minimizing the effects of aviation on the global climate, regulatory and financial frameworks need to be established to ensure that sufficient quantities of alternative fuels are made available to aviation.
As requested by CAAF, ICAO has entered into preliminary discussions with the World Bank and Inter-American Development Bank to facilitate a framework for financing infrastructure development projects dedicated to aviation alternative fuels and incentives to overcome initial market hurdles. Furthermore, the adoption of alternative fuels by aviation might be simpler than for other sectors due to the relatively small number of fuelling locations and vehicles. The definition of sustainability criteria will determine the types of feedstocks and processes that will be used to produce alternative fuels in the future. Currently, there is no set of internationally accepted sustainability criteria; however, this issue is not exclusive to aviation.
ICAO's Role in Sustainable Alternative Fuels for Aviation
ICAO has been facilitating, on a global basis, the promotion and harmonization of initiatives that encourage and support the development of sustainable alternative fuels for international aviation. The Organization is actively engaged in the following activities to carry out this facilitation role:
- Providing fora for education and outreach on sustainable alternative fuels for aviation.
- Providing fora for facilitating the exchange of information on financing and incentives for sustainable alternative fuels for aviation programmes working with the relevant UN and regional financial entities.
- Facilitating the establishment of a regulatory framework that assures sufficient quantities of sustainable alternative fuels are made available to aviation.
- Facilitating development of standardized definitions, methodologies and processes to support the development of sustainable alternative fuels for aviation, taking into consideration the work that has been done so far in this area.
- Supporting a platform for access to research, roadmaps and programmes.