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Decarbonizing Aviation: Challenges and Opportunities for Emerging Fuels

September 29, 2022 Category: Policy, Transportation Work Area: Zero-Carbon Fuels
Decarbonizing Aviation Report

A report from Clean Air Task Force finds that decarbonizing the global aviation sector will require significant investment in and policy support for an expanded suite of clean energy solutions beyond only biofuels, including low-emissions hydrogen and synthetic fuels, electricity, and direct air capture providing recommendations for policies to advance these solutions in both the United States and European Union.  

The report notes that while biofuels are commonly described as “sustainable aviation fuels,” they aren’t always climate beneficial. Large-scale biofuel production drives up demand for commodity crops and motivates farmers around the world to convert natural land into farmland, a process that transfers soil- and plant-carbon into the atmosphere. Furthermore, even if biofuels were climate beneficial and if all the world’s biofuels were directed to aviation, they would still not meet projected global energy demand for aviation on their own which is expected to increase significantly in the decades to come. 

In order to decarbonize aviation, the report finds, governments will need to develop a coherent policy response that includes: 

  1. Investments in research, development, and deployment of next-generation fuels 
  2. Tax credits or subsidies to incentivize investment and production 
  3. Regulations to accelerate demand for next-generation fuels 
  4. Technical standards – including full lifecycle accounting of the GHG emissions – tied to the production, transport, and use of aviation fuels