Clean aviation will take more than just biofuels

Source– The post is based on the article “Clean aviation will take more than just biofuels” published in the “mint” on 18th September 2023.

Syllabus: GS3 – Environment

Relevance- Biofuels for aviation sector

News– Union minister Hardeep Singh Puri recently said that the Global Biofuel Alliance (GBA) could turn India into a major producer and exporter of sustainable aviation fuel (SAF).

Why adoption of sustainable biofuels is the best option for the aviation industry to achieve carbon neutrality?

In 2022, aviation was responsible for 2% of all carbon emissions. It will increase rapidly unless the aviation industry discovers a way to reduce its carbon footprint.

Developing electric planes on the scale of commercial jetliners remains a technological challenge. These planes would require exceptionally lightweight batteries. Creating an airframe design capable of taking off solely on electric power is a significant hurdle.

Therefore, the industry’s current best option for achieving carbon neutrality is the widespread adoption of Sustainable Aviation Fuels (SAFs), coupled with carbon capture technologies.

What are challenges in achieving carbon neutrality through Sustainable Aviation Fuels?

One of the critical concerns is the capacity to supply SAFs. Traditional biofuels often rely on large quantities of agricultural produce, such as crops like sugarcane and corn,

These crops are diverted from primary agricultural purposes like food production. As a result, there are limitations on the available output.

There are alternative biomass sources for SAFs, including bio-waste like used cooking oil, forest residue, agricultural waste, and municipal refuse. However, ensuring an adequate supply of feedstock will still be a challenging endeavour.

The production process for sustainable biofuels is lengthy and complex. It makes them more expensive than traditional jet fuel.

SAFs have a lower energy density. It means that larger volumes are required to refuel aircraft. Similar to battery technology, these factors present significant hurdles to the widespread adoption of SAFs.

The true test of SAFs will materialize when carbon trading gains significance. At that point, comprehensive track records will emerge

Many questions the validity of SAFs’ assertion of an 80% reduction in emissions, even under the best-case scenario.

What more should be done?

The strategy is to begin with a small proportion of biofuel, perhaps as low as 1%. It should be mixed with regular jet fuel. There should be a gradual increase in bio-content as aircraft adapted for SAFs become more prevalent.

The adoption of Sustainable Aviation Fuels (SAFs) will necessitate robust regulatory measures. This process has already commenced globally.

Carbon offsets have gradually become a part of the equation through the Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation established by the UN’s leading authority in this sector.

Indian airlines operating international flights will be required to adhere to these norms within the next five years.

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