Climate Expert Tells Aviation To Back Carbon Capture

To play its part in achieving the Paris Agreement’s goal of a net-zero world in 2050, the industry will need more than just sustainable fuel.

In debates over the best steps to achieving zero-carbon goals for aviation, some see sustainable aviation fuels (SAF) as a somewhat limited stopgap measure to be superseded by longer-term advances in propulsion technology, such as electric- and hydrogen-powered aircraft. However, according to Anthony Patt, professor of climate policy at Swiss university ETH Zurich, even those solutions won’t be sufficient for aviation to play its part in achieving the Paris Agreement’s goal of a net-zero world in 2050.

During a recent webinar on net-zero carbon emissions, Patt made the case for aviation to get behind what he portrayed as more progressive initiatives, such as direct air capture of carbon dioxide from jet-A fuel. He explained that this process can either involve storing the emissions underground to prevent climate damage or, better still, using what gets captured to make synthetic fuels from hydrocarbons.

The trouble is that, for now, these solutions don’t come cheap. The CarbFix Project to store emissions underground in Iceland is resulting in costs that amount to around $1.80 per liter of fossil fuel burned, which Patt said is around three times average global prices. He predicted that this cost should drop by as much as 80 percent by 2040, to just 35 cents per liter. “But you are probably going to have to accept a doubling in costs if you want to achieve true climate-neutral aviation."

Using direct air capture to make synthetic fuels involves an easier process and, according to Patt, has unlimited potential to scale up. However, the cost currently amounts to around $3 per liter, although it should drop to more like $1 by 2030.

The main driver for reducing production costs will be lower electricity prices, the professor explained. And these are most likely to be achieved in sunnier parts of the world, like Australia and Saudi Arabia, which could mean additional costs associated with transporting the resulting synthetic fuel to where it is needed by aircraft operators.

Patt urged the business aviation community to pay attention to new European Union legislation anticipated for this summer that will introduce requirements for minimum blends of synthetic fuel in aviation fuel. He predicted this will start modestly at just 2 percent in 2025, but is due to rise to 100 percent by 2050. In the meantime, he said, the industry can expect more aviation carbon taxes, even though he doesn’t feel these are likely to be high enough to discourage demand for air transport.

For now, though, SAF seems to be the business aviation sector's clearest option for making some progress in reducing the industry’s carbon footprint. Jet Aviation’s deputy accountable manager, Claudio Peer, reported growing interest among business aircraft owners, who have plenty of questions about how they can use the new fuel.

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The fractional aircraft provider has purchased a stake in WasteFuel, a company that aims to convert landfill waste into SAF.

Peer also acknowledged the logistical challenges associated with all the carbon-reducing measures. “If we have to move it [SAF] from Singapore [where it is manufactured] to the other side of the world, it won’t happen,” he commented. “But I am sure we have a good chance to make it work if we put our heads together.”

Jet Aviation said that, working with sister company Gulfstream, it has bought 1.4 million gallons of SAF since 2011. The business aviation services group plans to soon start offering the fuel at FBOs in Amsterdam and Rotterdam in the Netherlands.