Aviation hard to decarbonize, but are we on the way to find a solution?
As the climate disaster worsens, there is a big urgency on decarbonizing all sectors of our economy, especially transportation in all shapes and forms. Aviation for a long time has been an industry that proved difficult to decarbonize, but with new technology and development in this area, it seems we’re slowly (but surely) on the way to tackle emissions related to air travel. So, we’ve asked ourselves: what is the future for sustainability and aviation? Let’s look at all of the different things happening in this sector.
Importance of Sustainability in Aviation
According to Our World in Data, global aviation accounts for 1.9% of greenhouse gas emissions, 2.5% of CO2 emissions and 3.5% of “effective radiative forcing” (effective radiative forcing measures the difference between incoming energy and the energy radiated back to space). It is a relatively small chunk compared to other sectors, but the key problem here is that aviation is particularly hard to decarbonize. If we want to stay on top of the targets to keep the temperature below 1.5C degrees compared to pre-industrial levels, all sectors of our economy need to be more sustainable.
Another research from Our World in Data points out that the richest half of the countries are responsible for 90% of air travel CO2 emissions. In 2018, passenger flights accounted for astonishing 81% of aviation emissions, compared to freight accounting for 19%.
Covid-19 pandemic has strengthen industry discussions on the topic of sustainability, and as aviation is returning to pre-pandemic levels, more has to be done in order to prevent the more severe consequences of climate change. The Transition Pathway Initiative released a report concluding an investigation of 20 (biggest) airlines and found that none of them was on track to meet the Paris Agreement Pledge.
What developments are there so far?
In order to make aviation more sustainable, a number of different solutions across different points of the industry have been brought up. Not only related to fuel consumption, but other things surrounding aircraft journey.
Sustainable fuel and lower emissions
A number of airlines has collectively committed to reduction of emissions, and one of the key elements helping with that is sustainable aviation fuel (SAF for short). SAF is produced from sustainable feedstocks and is very similar in its chemistry to traditional jet fuel, yet it’s lower in emissions than fossil fuels. Although sustainable aviation fuel might be the future, there needs to be more technological development in that sphere, more investment and the costs need to be significantly lowered for it to be more available.
Another way aviation is reducing emissions is by more optimized freight, especially in logistics. By optimizing logistical transit and choosing efficient careers, the amount of fuel consumed will be reduced, and carbon emissions will go down as well.
Cleaning aircraft without water
Dirt collected by aircrafts during flights increases the fuel consumption of planes, meaning that it also increases the emissions. To reduce the amount of water necessary for cleaning the aircrafts, some companies opted for so-called dry wash. This allows airlines to reduce the amount of water waste of more than 11 million liters of water annually.
No plastics on board
Many airlines opted to reduce the environmental impact of their operations by reducing the use of single-use plastics, removing plastics all together and using more sustainable or recycled materials on board. Even the “cheaper” airlines are encouraging more sustainable behaviors on board, by promoting multi-use cups or cutlery.
What role will eVTOL play in sustainable aviation?
Electric vertical take-off and landing aircrafts, or eVTOL for short will play a huge role in the future when it comes to “aviation” and sustainability. With eVTOL, developers are aiming to create aircrafts that can maintain net-zero operating emissions to ease air travel’s impact on the environment. Although the technology is still in early stages, there are a number of companies trying to accelerate this sector.
Jim Sherman from the Vertical Flight Society said in an interview: “The technology seems to be moving along at a fairly rapid pace. A lot of that is driven by the automotive industry. Electric motors continue to get more efficient, smaller, faster, cheaper, and that will feed into eVTOL development.”
In Europe, two companies are trying to push eVTOL’s forward – Volocopter and Lilium. But as a report by Deloitte Insight concludes first the technological and psychological barriers need to be removed in order for eVTOL to really be the future of air mobility. Especially social acceptance can prove difficult to overcome, but as we found out during one of our Green Room discussions, the sustainability aspect of eVTOL can prove beneficial for general acceptance. As far as prediction goes, the same Deloitte report expects wider adoption of eVTOLs after 2030.
Although currently there is no proof that eVTOL will definitely be the next big thing, introduction of vertical landing aircrafts alongside traditional, yet sustainable version of planes can help reduce the impact of aviation on the environment.
Although sustainability in aviation is the way to go, there is still a lot of work that needs to be done. In order to stay on track with the ambitious goals governments have set to reduce emissions, more development in aviation is necessary, as well as more advancement in eVTOL needs to happen. The technologies that can have a positive impact on the planet are there, now we just need to accelerate them to reach the mission of a sustainable future.
If you are looking to find out more about eVTOL and future mobility in general, or are looking to scale up your GreenTech, get in touch with our team of specialist Consultants who can connect you with the top-tier talent to transform the entire aviation industry as it exists today.