In 30 years, your summer flight by plane may be a little more expensive. It could also be carbon free

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As millions of Americans board planes bound for their favorite vacation spots, the industry is gearing up for a bigger journey, which will tackle cutting carbon emissions from those flights over the next 30 years. years.

To achieve this goal by 2050, a report released Thursday by an international transport group found that research and support were needed quickly. This will make air travel a bit more expensive, but won’t mean going back to the days of sailboats and airships.

But it must happen now, they said.

“We can’t wait until 2040 to start making plans and then say, ‘Oops, we don’t have the money, that’s not doable,'” said Council senior researcher Brandon Graver. international on clean transport. who produced the study. “We need to accelerate quickly and we need to invest the financial resources to do so.”

Air travel currently produces about 3% of the carbon dioxide that causes climate change. The United States is committed to achieving net zero greenhouse gas emissions from its aviation sector by 2050.

Removing carbon from aviation is part of a larger fight to remove it from the global economy. This spring, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change said humanity was not on track to stay below the goal set by scientists in 2018 of an average increase in global temperature of 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit).

Last week, scientists said the amount of carbon dioxide in the Earth’s atmosphere was now more than 50% higher than in pre-industrial times and had reached levels not seen for millions of years, when Earth was a planet flooded by the ocean.

Preventing current levels from rising means removing carbon from every nook and cranny of the global economy, including aviation. But moving from today’s fossil-fuel aircraft to net-zero flights is likely to be a bumpy ride.

Because jet fuel, effectively kerosene, has to pack a lot of energy into a small space, aviation is considered one of the hardest parts of the economy to decarbonize. But experts say that doesn’t mean it’s impossible.

Several solutions are being developed, although all require more research, development, investment and regulation to be fully implemented.

Most pressing is the development of sustainable aviation fuels, or SAFs, which are still in their infancy.

“It’s a very ambitious goal,” said Sharon Pinkerton, senior vice president of legislative and regulatory policy at Airlines for America, the airline industry association.

“We really need to move the technology development process forward at lightning speed,” she said. “Fuel producers need incentives to overcome the cost barriers that exist.”

The US government has set a goal to grow from the 5 million gallons of SAF currently produced to 3 billion gallons by 2030. This represents 20 billion gallons of jet fuel burned by US air carriers each year.

Scientists at Argonne National Laboratory in Illinois have been working on the problem of creating sustainable jet fuel since 2012, said Michael Wang, director of energy systems and infrastructure analysis at the lab.

With the right incentives, he said, today’s sustainable jet fuels could cut greenhouse gas emissions by 50 percent, paving the way for so-called e-fuel.

The end goal is to use cheap and abundant energy from wind and solar installations, as well as carbon dioxide from agricultural residues or direct capture from the air, to create the high-energy fuel whose planes need to fly.

Although the timeline is fast and the technology is still under development, carbon-neutral jet fuel could ultimately totally transform aviation, said Pedro Piris-Cabezas, director of sustainable international transportation at the Defense Fund of the United States. environment.

“As soon as we start putting that energy on the table, there’s a bright future for aviation,” he said.

Creating these third-generation fuels will require investment and political support from the European Union and the United States. “It’s the only way to really drive the ingenuity that we need,” Piris-Cabezas said.

What is the “impact on aviation”?

E-fuels will be more expensive, but not horribly expensive, he said. His team calculated that once fully developed, the carbon-neutral fuel would add about $80 to the cost of a round-trip ticket between San Francisco and New York.

“Obviously this will have an impact on aviation, but it’s not as big as predicted in other studies,” he said.

The ICCT report estimates that rising fuel costs will lead to only modest reductions in air travel, around 2.5% of the total.

The ICCT report offers various scenarios for the aviation industry, all of which require a shift to more than 60% sustainable jet fuel and improvements in aircraft efficiency. and somewhere close to 5% of flights powered by hydrogen fuel cells. A modest reduction of around 2.5% per year in air travel is also expected as costs rise.

Although many initiatives are underway, no decision has been made. The International Civil Aviation Organization is discussing the issue and is expected to present a plan in September.

The airline industry is coalescing around a roadmap of what is doable and what is needed to get there, Graver said.

In addition to sustainable fuel, the industry is working on ever more efficient aircraft, some powered by electricity or hydrogen. These are still in development and would only be intended for short flights as they cannot efficiently carry enough power for long haul routes.

The scale of the problem is sobering, Graver admitted, but he is optimistic.

“Twenty years ago we weren’t thinking about hydrogen and electric planes, or even sustainable aviation fuels. We were thinking about four-engine planes and now we’re thinking about twin-engine planes that fly longer distances and are from composite materials. New things are constantly coming out,” he said.

“There is a problem, we will solve it. It will take time and energy, but we will get there.”

Reducing airline emissions to meet Paris targets: report

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