Last week, the Biden administration announced plans by the federal government, aircraft manufacturers, airlines, fuel producers, airports, and non-governmental organizations to advance the use of cleaner and more sustainable fuels in American aviation. If fully implemented these actions will result in the production and use of billions of gallons of sustainable fuel that will enable aviation emissions to drop 20% by 2030.
The announced plans partner with a proposed Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF) tax credit intended to cut costs and rapidly scale domestic production of sustainable fuels for aviation to keep the country on track to achieve net-zero U.S. aviation greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.
Key federal actions include:
- A new Sustainable Aviation Fuel Grand Challenge to inspire the dramatic increase in the production of sustainable aviation fuels to at least 3 billion gallons per year by 2030;
- New and ongoing funding opportunities to support sustainable aviation fuel projects and fuel producers totaling up to $4.3 billion;
- An increase in R&D activities to demonstrate new technologies that can achieve at least a 30% improvement in aircraft fuel efficiency; and
- Efforts to improve air traffic and airport efficiency to reduce fuel use, eliminate lead exposure, and ensure cleaner air in and around airports.
In support of the SAF 2030 goal, several airlines have made specific pledges to ramp up use of SAF and advance sustainability across their operations:
- United Airlines announced a new goal to reduce its carbon emissions 50% compared to 2019 in by 2035. United has committed to purchasing 1.5 billion gallons of this new SAF over the next 20 years.
- Delta Air Lines committed to replace 10% of current jet fuel use with SAFs by 2030 and has agreements with three SAF producers, Neste, Gevo, and Northwest Advanced Bio-Fuels. Delta also recently announced a new SAF emissions pilot project with Chevron and Google to increase industry SAF transparency.
- American Airlines plans to procure 10 million gallons of SAF from Prometheus Fuels by 2025 through a process that produces fuels from captured CO2 and renewable electricity.
- Alaska Airlines offers purchase of SAF to offset corporate travel on key routes and has agreements in place with SAF producers including SkyNRG Americas and Neste.
- Southwest Airlines is partnering with the National Renewable Energy Lab to develop and commercialize SAF.
- JetBlue is committed to electric and hydrogen aircraft development in partnership with Joby Aviation and Universal Hydrogen.
Travel by air is one of my favorite activities. It allows me to visit far off places and people, and provides a level of understanding of the world that I wouldn’t get from books. The downside is that air travel contributes to global warming and its harmful effects.
According to OurWorldinData.org, in 2018 global aviation (domestic and international; passenger and freight) accounted for 1.9% of greenhouse gas emissions (which includes all greenhouse gases, not only CO2), and 2.5% of CO2 emissions. Aviation is far from a leading causes of global warming, but it is a significant one.
The administration’s goals and the airlines’ pledges are necessary steps to stabilizing our climate. The actual effect of these measures remains to be seen as the SAF tax credit has not been passed yet and the airlines and other businesses are under no obligation to meet the goals.
Nevertheless, the aviation industry understands the potential harm of climate change and the risks it poses for their industry. Accordingly, the industry and individual companies are taking a variety of steps to lower aviation’s environmental impact such as blended-wing aircraft, composite molded monocoque aircraft designs, and even formation flying like a flock of geese. Many airlines let passengers “neutralize” their portion of carbon emissions on a particular journey by investing in carbon reduction projects.
It is the ever increasing efficiency of air travel and the promise of new technologies and practices that gives me comfort as I contemplate my travel plans. Also, the pandemic and its effects have highlighted the fact that travel is very important to the economies of many countries and the livelihoods of hundreds of millions of people.
How do you feel about the environmental effects of air travel?