Biofuels present the only credible hope to reduce emissions from air transport, according to a study by consultants Booz & Company and the World Economic Forum.
According to the study, although air transport currently only accounts for around 2% of global CO2 emissions, the volume of travel is set to double within 15 years and increase six-fold by 2050.
The rise in air travel, particularly in India, China and the Middle East, is compounded by the long working life of aircraft, which means that efficiency improvements only have a very gradual effect.
While the prediction is for global CO2 emissions from aviation to show a 3% year-in-year increase, the industry has set a target of an annual improvement in fuel and CO2 efficiency of 1.5% to 2020 and carbon neutral growth from then on.
The only option to get around the long lifecycle of aircraft is the introduction of biofuels, which can be used with the existing fleet, says Jürgen Ringbeck, partner and air transport expert at Booz & Company.
“There is no route map for the international aviation industry that doesn’t involve biofuels,” he says. “It is only highly-developed fuels from biomass that have the potential to achieve the long-term, ambitiously-framed industry targets.
The switch to biofuels will require a major investment, as well as the right regulatory framework with the right incentives, says the report.
“The change requires huge investments, to bring about a quantum leap in the technology and a massive expansion in production,” says Booz & Company energy expert Nick Pennell.
While the report indicates that market-based mechanisms like emissions trading and offsetting can reduce emissions cost-effectively, it says there is more potential in positive incentives such as tax concessions than in environmental levies and taxes.
It adds that airlines, governments and aviation regulatory bodies such as the International Air Transport Association (IATA) and International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) to will need to work together to map out a sustainable approach to future air travel.
For further information:
Biofuels could provide 27% of transport fuels by 2050, says IEA (21-Apr)
Biofuel policies are “unethical”, says UK report (13-Apr)
Boeing and EPFL join forces on biomass fuel sustainability standards (25-Mar)
Europe sets out stall for including aviation in emissions trading system (15-Mar)
05 May 2011