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Ep 30 – Decarbonization

Podcast | June 8, 2022

Why Is Decarbonization Important?

Decarbonization has lofty goals for all industries, including aviation. Net-zero emissions are not just a goal but a reality as the customer, society, and the planet demand it. If aviation does little to reduce its carbon footprint, aviation could be a major global contributor of emissions by 2050. Restrictions could come into place such as banning all flights under 500 miles, which some have already suggested.30

Deloitte has created a white paper titled Decarbonizing Aerospace, which is an interesting read. There are many metrics to rate the effect of the aviation industry on the planet’s atmosphere. Aviation accounted for about 3% of global emissions from 2013 to 2018; however, emissions from aviation increased by 32% in that same time period. If aviation does little to reduce emissions, aviation could be responsible for 22% of global emissions by 2050, so it’s obvious that we must take steps to decarbonize.

Business aviation has a higher hill to climb when you look at the emissions per person per flight. Business aviation carries fewer passengers per aircraft, and this can result in a much larger amount of CO2 generated per passenger. Deloitte’s report says that the average business aviation flight results in 860 Kg of CO2 per passenger whereas a commercial flight generates about 108 Kg of CO2/passenger. This is a significant difference. The industry in general will generate 2.6 times the emissions in 2050 that were generated in 2019. This growth requires action to sustain the industry in a decarbonizing world.

Three Scopes of Emissions

There are 3 scopes of emissions identified in the report. Scope 1 emissions are generated when aircraft manufacturers make aircraft in their factories. Scope 2 emissions come from suppliers to aircraft manufacturers making products for the aircraft manufacturer. Scope 3 emissions come from the operation of the aircraft itself.

Scopes 1 and 2 are more easily controlled by aircraft manufactures such as Bombardier making their production facilities net zero, and requesting their supplier’s do the same; however, this reduction will only help the industry reduce its carbon footprint by 30%. The real decarbonization happens in the Scope 3 area when the aircraft is operated by Bombardier customers. This is difficult for manufacturers to control. Therefore, aircraft operators must engage with decarbonization to help realize the industry’s goals.

Five Steps to Reduce Aircraft Emissions

The report suggests that the industry should concentrate on 5 steps to reduce Scope 3 emissions.

Step 1: Air Traffic Management

Air Traffic Management using Performance-Based Navigation, Communication, and Surveillance is already happening and is the improvement of efficient flights paths. RNP AR or authorization required approaches have identical repeatable paths to final which allow for reduced flight time for your aircraft and the one behind you as ATC knows exactly the path you will fly to the final approach fix.

Step 2: Aircraft Design

Aircraft design improvements is using advanced technologies and materials to achieve fuel efficient aircraft. The customer will demand this. The airplane I fly has a few variants, and the newest version has vastly more efficient engines.

Step 3: Improving The Supporting Infrastructure

Infrastructure improvements help develop more efficient systems for aircraft and aircraft support such as bringing more electricity to airports for charging electrically powered aircraft and support vehicles such as tugs and belt loaders. If hydrogen aircraft are to be fueled, then a hydrogen delivery system will be required at airports.

Step 4: New Propulsion Technologies

New propulsion technologies could see electric and hydrogen propulsion systems.

Step 5: Sustainable Aviation Fuels

The Increased Development and Usage of SAF

SAF usage is key to emission reduction for all fuel burning industries. Every week I read about another FBO that is supplying SAF. The barriers right now are cost and availability as there are few refineries producing SAF. SAF production must increase to drive down prices or perhaps government subsidies are needed in the early years like electric cars enjoyed. Some operators are taking the lead and paying the premium price for SAF, which may be demanded by their passengers.

There is another consideration here that the report identifies. Sustainable fuels must be just that—sustainable.

How Is SAF Produced?

SAF is made by blending conventional fossil-based kerosene with renewable hydrocarbon. The renewable part of SAF can come from cooking oil, plant oils, municipal waste, waste gases, and agricultural residues.

SAF are certified as “Jet-A1” fuel and can be used without any modifications to aircraft. Of course, check with the manufacturer first.

Biofuels is another term used. They also mix plant and animal hydrocarbon with fuel to create biofuels.

In the past, biofuels have competed with food production. SAF cannot do this or result in high freshwater use or increased deforestation.

Some Say That SAF Is Carbon-neutral. How Does That Work?

Some SAF uses plants in its production, sometimes referred to as bio-SAF. These plants have absorbed CO2 before they became SAF, so it has been calculated that the CO2 created by burning SAF is equivalent to the CO2 absorbed by the plants before they were burnt in the aircraft engine. The CO2 is returned to the atmosphere. This is the carbon neutrality of SAF. As a comparison, fossil fuels remove carbon from below ground and put it above the surface.

Some of you might be saying, “What about the refining process or the fuel used to harvest the crop?” These are considerations, for sure, and have shown to reduce the decarbonization properties of SAF. SAF has other benefits such as a reduction in particulate matter emissions compared to fossil fuels.

That was SAF production using crops—hopefully, where no trees were cut down to prepare the field. What about using municipal waste? The benefits are bigger here as we produce the waste anyway and, if it were not used in SAF production, then it would add to the overall emissions remaining in landfills.

If you want to listen to more about SAF, check out the previous podcast at titled Ep 18 – Sustainable Aviation Fuel: Interview with Kurt Edwards, Director General of IBAC

In The News: Making Aircraft Fuel from Sunlight and Air

Let’s change gears for a moment. In The News is a section of the podcast where I talk about other happenings in aviation.

A research group has essentially made fuel from air. An article in the journal Nature explains a process whereby synthetic drop-in fuels can be produced from H2O and CO2 using solar power. The process uses the high temperatures from solar to extract CO2 and H2O from the atmosphere. This process could be used in desert regions where sun exposure is high and the water extracted from the air could also be used for animal feedstock in a place where this may not have happened before. Imagine a synthetic fuel plant and a farm side-by-side in the desert. The project produced methanol and kerosene in field trials. It’s really interesting to see these new technologies coming from research and, hopefully, some make it to market.

Electric Aircraft

The report says that short distance trips, such as those less than 500 miles, could be flown by zero emission electric propulsion aircraft if battery size, weight, and cost decline like they are predicted to do into the year 2030. The question is, “Do we retrofit existing aircraft or build new electric aircraft?” I’ve wondered about electric vehicles and the gas vehicles we are trading in. Does it make sense to keep driving your current gas car until it’s lived its life, or should a consumer buy a new electric vehicle sooner than later? I’m guessing it’s best to keep your car as long as you can since the energy to build it has already been spent; however, I don’t know this for sure. A Google search says that this is true; however, a person must be cautious with the internet and non-peer reviewed research papers.

The same could be said for airplanes. Converting a turbine-powered airplane to an electric one may be expensive but better than building a new airplane from scratch. If somebody out there knows of a peer reviewed study about whether to convert existing airplanes versus building new ones, please send me an email at

What About Hydrogen?

Hydrogen fuel cells use a chemical reaction to provide electricity to an electric motor or hydrogen can be burned in a modified jet engine.

Pros for Hydrogen

  • It reduces emissions by 100% over fossil fuels.
  • Noise levels are less.

Cons for Hydrogen

  • There are no hydrogen aircraft and, just like retrofitting short-haul aircraft for electric propulsion, it would be very expensive to modify an existing Global Express to accept hydrogen-based propulsion.
  • The infrastructure that would be required to bring the hydrogen to the aircraft at the airport-massive investment. Speaking of massive investment, Deloitte estimated the cost of switching the aviation industry to electric and hydrogen for short- and medium-haul flights to be $125 billion U.S. dollars.

Key Takeaways

The key takeaways from the report are industry initiatives such as SAF production, electric short-haul airplanes and hydrogen long-haul aircraft in some form and scale will be aviation’s answer to decarbonization.

What can you do?

  • Something pilots have always done is flying the most efficient routes and altitudes even if that means going high and wearing an oxygen mask.
  • Search out Sustainable Aviation Fuels or ask about a ‘book and claim’ program where you can still benefit at airports that do not yet have SAF.
  • Defend your industry and be knowledgeable about decarbonization.


The world is changing fast, and aviation will be a part of it. Seems a bit daunting for the industry to get there, but new aircraft and fuels are being developed every day and I didn’t even touch on the electric vertical takeoff and landing industry. There’s even an EASA-certified car flying in Slovakia as of 2 months ago. Thanks for listening.


Schäppi, R., Rutz, D., Dähler, F. et al. Drop-in fuels from sunlight and air. Nature 601, 63–68 (2022).

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