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Successful aviation decarbonization will require multiple fuel sources, finds CATF report

April 30, 2024 Work Area: Zero-Carbon Fuels

Clean Air Task Force (CATF) conducted a detailed analysis of leading potential energy carriers for aviation decarbonization and identified a mixed-fuel future as one of the sector’s most climate-beneficial strategies.  

“Decarbonizing the aviation industry is in many ways the most difficult challenge facing the transportation sector – in large part because the weight and space constraints of air travel are most cost-effectively met using energy-dense fossil fuels,” said Thomas Walker, Transportation Technology Manager at CATF. “Many countries have made commitments to reduce the industry’s climate impacts by increasing the use of sustainable aviation fuels (SAF), but overreliance on this fuel source for decarbonization is unlikely to succeed in the long term. This is partly due to indirect impacts on land-use change and largely because aviation energy demand could double projected SAF supply by midcentury. Our new report evaluates other fuel options that could supplement SAF shortfalls and ultimately finds that a combination of fuels is a plausible deep decarbonization strategy for the aviation sector.”  

The report, Decarbonizing Aviation: Enabling Technologies for a Net-Zero Future, draws from literature and interviews with key market players for a detailed examination of each leading non-fossil aviation decarbonization option. It uses this information to develop scenarios for achieving net-zero aviation emissions by 2050 using a mix of four aviation fuels: 

  • Bio-SAF – biofuels derived from waste oils and fats treated with hydrogen, so the final product is chemically identical to kerosene. SAF can also be derived from non-waste vegetable oil from non-food crops like jatropha and existing corn ethanol via the alcohol-to-jet process.  
  • Synthetic kerosene – hydrocarbon fuels typically synthesized from syngas, a mixture of carbon monoxide and hydrogen. 
  • Hydrogen – a potential fuel that can reduce a significant portion of aviation emissions to near zero, depending on how it is produced. 
  • Ammonia – a hydrogen carrier with 49% more energy per volume than liquid hydrogen. 

Walker continued: 

“Achieving a multi-fuel future will require a massive amount of low-carbon hydrogen, significant cost reductions, and substantial innovation, driven by major strategic changes in the aviation industry and well-thought-out policies to create the correct incentives. Notwithstanding those challenges, this report helps illustrate a potentially viable way forward. Remaking the aviation fuel market will be an ambitious undertaking, but if the entire sector rises to the challenge, aviation decarbonization is possible on a timeline that meets national and international climate goals.” 

Analysis of these scenarios shows that a combination of these fuels where bio-SAF and synthetic kerosene are used to meet 86% of overall demand represents a realistic fuel mix for the aviation industry in 2050.   

This analysis also identifies several challenges related to the scale-up of multiple nascent production industries and build-up of key infrastructure across fuel types that will need to be overcome with a wide range of policies. Such policies include: 

  • A clean fuel standard, which would require gradual reductions in the carbon intensity of the transportation fuel mix; 
  • Policies designed to support synthetic SAF production both directly and by boosting the supply of climate-friendly hydrogen and carbon feedstocks; and 
  • Policies that help accelerate full commercialization of the critical technologies needed to decarbonize aviation by actively investing in research and development initiatives. 

Lisez le rapport ici pour une description détaillée des méthodes de recherche et des résultats. Pour en savoir plus sur les travaux de CATFdans ce domaine, consultez notre page d'accueil


Contact presse

Steve Reyes, responsable de la communication, CATF, [email protected], +1 562-916-6463

À propos de Clean Air Task Force 

Clean Air Task Force (CATF) is a global nonprofit organization working to safeguard against the worst impacts of climate change by catalyzing the rapid development and deployment of low-carbon energy and other climate-protecting technologies. With more than 25 years of internationally recognized expertise on climate policy and a fierce commitment to exploring all potential solutions, CATF is a pragmatic, non-ideological advocacy group with the bold ideas needed to address climate change. CATF has offices in Boston, Washington D.C., and Brussels, with staff working virtually around the world. Visit catf.us and follow @cleanaircatf.

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