(CNN) – The European Commission says a round trip flight from Lisbon, Portugal, to New York generates about the same level of emissions as the average EU resident heating their home for a year.
But the aviation industry gradually shifting from traditional jet fuels to more sustainable energy sources would go a long way in reducing these emissions, and it hopes to wean itself off hydrocarbons.
Cooking oil, food waste, even your old clothing: It could all be used to fly a plane and combat climate change.
Sustainable aviation fuels, or SAFs, are fuels made from renewable energy sources. They could potentially cut carbon emissions from aviation by up to 80%.
The EU has made some ambitious proposals for aviation as part of its green deal.
From 2025, planes taking off from EU airports would have to use a blend of at least 2% sustainable aviation fuel, rising to 5% in 2030 and 63% by 2050.
The problem right now is SAF only accounts for 0.1% of the aviation fuel market.
Energy giant Shell is hoping to change that. It plans to start producing around 2 million tons of SAF a year by 2025.
It is collaborating with British plane engine maker Rolls Royce, and they’re pushing for jets to fill up on 100% SAF.
For now, regulators limit planes to a 50% blend with conventional jet fuel.
“At least 10% of our sales by 2030 will be SAF. Now, that’s a scale up from the current production,” said Anna Mascolo, Shell Global Aviation president. “So, by 2025, Shell alone Will produce 10 times more than what all the different producers are producing today. Is that enough? No, it won’t be enough.”
Anna Stewart: “So, is it policy makers? Is it regulators, what needs to happen to get more SAF being made and more airlines using it?”
Paul Stein, CTO of Rolls Royce, said market conditions need to change to get more SAF made and used by airlines.
“Right now, fossil fuel is pretty cheap. And without any intervention by government, airlines quite rightly will carry on using the cheapest source of fuel, which is fossil-based fuel,” Stein said. “SAFs right now are not as cheap as fossil fuels. In fact, right now they’re quite expensive. And so we have to have some regulation intervention in order to encourage the ramp up SAFs.”
In Belgium, ArcelorMittal is teaming up with Lanza Tech to convert waste from its steel mills into ethanol.
It is building a high-tech plant using a different technology that has potential to increase SAF production.
“That’s what we’re doing here at this plant. It’s carbon recycling,” said Bjorn Heijstra, technical director Europe, LanzaTech. “So the carbon has had the primary use in the steel mill, and with this facility here we can ferment the carbon into a secondary use. This process is unique. We use gasses into alcohol but still a fermentation, but it’s a bio catalyst that does this. It’s not a yeast; it’s a bacterium. The bacteria can consume carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide and hydrogen gasses and convert these into ethanol.”
Three years in the making, the plant is financially backed by European and state authorities.
It’s due to be operational from 2022 and promises to deliver 64,000 tons of ethanol a year.
That could be used for many sectors, from fragrances and detergents to sustainable aviation fuels.
“We used to be steelmakers, we make steel, and now we are producing ethanol using the technology of Lanza Tech. And there you can find a lot of synergies. The waste of one industry is a feedstock of the other. All sectors have to look into this, and they have to collaborate to say ‘one and one is three’ and not ‘one on one is two,’ in that case. You can gain a lot with these synergies.”
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