Carbon Free — The Great Aviation Conundrum

Photo by Suhyeon Choi on Unsplash

I remembered one of Greta’s confession, about her journey with transatlantic cruise. She had invited by one of American’s conference for sharing her thought about grass-root climate movement. Instead of took the flight from Sweden to US, Greta Thunberg chose the detour trip with yacht. She argued, the carbon footprint of aviation, negatively, could affect the climate change. So that, Greta avoiding the flight as one of the protest expressions for aviation industry. In fact, airlines transported 4.5 billion passengers in 2019, belching out in the process 900 million tons of carbon dioxide, equivalent to two percent of total global emissions.

On the other hand, passenger numbers are projected to double by 2050, meaning we will face a parallel doubling of carbon dioxide if we still on business as usual. Its kind like a dilemma for aviation industry: how can it fulfil its ambitions of doubling passenger numbers while meeting its goal of reducing its massive carbon emission? On my word, fly more and pollute less, is such a great conundrum for aviation progress. Meanwhile, environmentalist and climate activist are on their way to amplify the public pressure. For instance, public protest narration on Flygskam (flight shame) appeared in Sweden in 2018.

Dealing with the public pressure, the International Air Transport Association (IATA), pledged to zero net emissions of carbon dioxide by 2050. A better initiative than previous 50% cut-off target. Several strategies emerge for attaining the target, such as more fuel-efficient engines, the emergence of hydrogen and electric propulsion, and a better management of air traffic. Also, plans on carbon offsetting schemes, such as planting trees, which NGOs say do not address the main problem.

I take a note on Brian Moran’s (Boeing’s vice-president of sustainability public policy) argument. “If there’s a ‘silver bullet’ to decarbonizing aviation, it’s sustainable aviation fuels (SAFs).” Its non-conventional fuels derived from organic products including cooking oil and algae. The European Commission will require that SAFs account for two percent of aviation kerosene by 2025, rising to five percent by 2030 and 63 percent by 2050.

Is it doable? Well, basically, biomass fuels are a limited resource. Besides, the aviation sector is also betting on synthetic fuels (e-fuels) made with hydrogen produced from renewable sources of energy and with carbon captured from the atmosphere. E-fuels are supposed to be the main type of future SAFs. However, the technologies being considered to reduce emissions always require a lot of energy and great amount of fund. And I guess, reducing the aviation demand still become the wise choice — meaning to fly less.

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The Climate Reality Leader and Author of 20 Books

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Moh Wahyu Syafi'ul Mubarok

Moh Wahyu Syafi'ul Mubarok

The Climate Reality Leader and Author of 20 Books

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