Climate Week: Biofuels to Decarbonize Air Travel

Connor McKoy
Connor McKoy
October 3, 2019

Last week Greta Thunberg took the United States by storm. She continued her mission of raising the alarm on climate change by visiting the United States for Climate Week and the United Nation’s Climate Summit during its General Assembly in New York City.

The Swedish teenager arrived in the Big Apple after a two-week boat trip from Europe across the Atlantic Ocean. The young climate activist refused to travel by plane because of aviation’s significant carbon footprint.

And Thunberg has a point.

Currently, air travel is responsible for 12 percent of all carbon emissions from transportation – a sector that leads all others in greenhouse gas emissions.

However, there is hope on the horizon as the aviation industry has committed to reducing carbon emissions by 50 percent by 2050. And biofuels will play a pivotal part in helping the industry reach that goal.

When mixed with jet fuel, biofuels have shown to reduce the carbon footprint of air travel up to 80 percent over their full lifecycle. As Thunberg often says, “Listen to the science.”

Last week, Stephanie Batchelor, vice president of BIO’s Industrial and Environmental Section was also in New York City to highlight the impact biofuels can have in sustaining the industry.

Joining Batchelor on the panel, “Fueling Aviation’s Future,” were representatives from United Airlines, JetBlue and Neste.

Together, the panelists discussed how their companies will reduce environmental impact and reach their 50 percent goal.

United Airlines’ Senior Manager for Environmental Strategy and Sustainability Aaron Robinson highlighted the airline’s Eco-Skies initiative. Working through partners, the program aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and promote sustainable products and materials.

Read more about United Airways Flight for the Planet on #WorldEnvironmentDay and BIO’s statement on their commitments.

The airline will heavily rely on biofuel innovation to meet these commitments.

Similarly, JetBlue has announced deals to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by incorporating biofuels, in addition to allowing passengers to buy carbon offsets.

Today, there are five approved pathways for sustainable aviation fuels, including biofuels developed from carbon-rich gases, such as emissions from industrial manufacturing, and agricultural residue.

A total of six airports are regularly supplying aviation biofuels, including LAX which uses biofuels in operations with United Airlines.

As more biofuels are approved, such as those made from algae and other sustainable sources, the number of airlines and airports using clean-burning biofuels will increase.

For an industry that can’t rely on electricity alone, biofuels will be critical in limiting emissions from the sector especially as air travel demand increases.

Across the board—from our airways, to roadways and even seaways—biofuels have been proven to reduce emissions. We must embrace biofuels if we are to decarbonize the world’s transportation sector.