The Duke and Duchess of Sussex—Prince Harry and Meghan Markle—have made some headlines this week… albeit one they probably don’t prefer. Why? Well, the royal couple took four private flights in 11 days while campaigning against climate change and some have been critical of that fact.
This write-up, however, is not critical of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle. I don’t expect the British royal family to fly commercial airlines for obvious reasons and concerns. Let's be realistic.
Instead, let’s use this news as a moment to learn how biotechnology innovations, like biofuels, can help reduce travel-related carbon emissions and what is already being done to bring biofuels into the fold.
First, how large of a carbon footprint did the royal couple generate during roundtrip flights from Britain to Nice, France and Ibiza, Spain? The travel gurus at The Points Guy break it down:
The BBC reports that the journey to France was on a private jet with fuel requirements of around 411 gallons in each direction. Based on the British Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy’s guidance of carbon dioxide emissions, the return journey on this aircraft would have produced 9.4 tons of emissions.
Sir Elton John (disclaimer: the author is a big fan) also enters the picture of this news. Sir Elton announced he paid to help carbon offset the return journey to France. Some of you may be familiar with this if you’ve ever booked a flight and been presented with the opportunity to pay a little extra to help offset your carbon footprint.
But there has to be a better solution to making air travel cleaner, right? Good news, some companies are up to that challenge by using climate-friendly biofuels.
Two quick examples:
- United Airlines’ made history with the most eco-friendly commercial flight of its kind in the history of aviation. To achieve this goal, the flight utilized biotechnology. The flight, deemed “Flight for the Planet,” traveled from Chicago O’Hare to Los Angeles and utilized sustainable aviation biofuel, zero cabin waste efforts with bio-based products, carbon offsetting, and operational efficiencies. The airline is also expanding its commitment to power more flights with biofuel.
- In 2008, Richard Branson’s Virgin Atlantic was the first commercial airline to have a biofuel-powered flight. Branson also declared the goal of having his airline’s fleet powered by at least 30 percent biofuel by 2020.
Biofuels are playing a significant role in reducing harmful pollution, particularly in the sector that emits the most greenhouse gases—transportation. And for an industry that can’t rely on electricity to keep it moving, biofuel innovation will be critical in reducing aviation’s carbon footprint. American researchers are also using feedstocks—like algae, waste, and other types of biomass—to convert into cleaner fuels for use in the sky.
Looking forward, if companies and individuals (maybe even a royal family?) embrace innovation in biofuels, we can better mitigate climate change and improve our air and water quality. It’s an investment in our future that public and private transportation should welcome.