Strategic Decisions on EU Aviation Biofuel Deployment Urgently Required to Overcome Cost Obstacle
(GreenAir Online) Despite efficiency improvements and a global agreement to stabilise carbon emissions from international aviation at 2020 levels, due to rapid growth in the sector there is likely to be a gap of 232 million tonnes of CO2 between 2020 and 2030 within the EU alone. Although carbon offsetting may plug this gap, it is not a long-term solution and renewable jet fuels will be an essential element of structurally reducing these emissions but a number of obstacles need to be overcome in order to stimulate their use, says a new report. A major stumbling block is overcoming the price premium and researchers at Utrecht University and the Energy Research Centre of the Netherlands (ECN) estimate that replacing 5% of all regular aviation fuel by 2030 will cost upwards of €10 billion ($10.6bn). Their report looks at the pre-conditions for the ramp-up of biofuels for aviation in the EU and conclude that rapid strategic decisions are required to realise the required significant long-term emissions reductions.
The research was carried out as part of the Renewable Jet Fuel Supply Chain and Flight Operations (RENJET) project, and funded by EIT Climate-KIC. Partners include Utrecht University, Imperial College London, aviation biofuels supplier SkyNRG, KLM and Amsterdam Airport Schiphol.
Although alternative propulsion systems may be promising options towards the end of this century, drop-in renewable jet fuel derived from biomass is the most technically and economically feasible option in the coming decades to decrease the carbon intensity of aviation fuel, argue the researchers. Depending on the production pathway, RJF can, they say, reduce life-cycle emissions significantly – up to 95% – compared to fossil jet fuels.
Although carbon offsets are a cheaper CO2 abatement option compared to RJF, they have limitations as the global availability of offsets of an acceptable environmental integrity level is limited and may only just be enough to achieve CNG in the 2020-2035 period covered by ICAO’s CORSIA carbon offsetting scheme. After this period, the cost may rise steeply because supply becomes tighter as the world moves towards the net zero CO2 emissions society required under a 2 degrees target.
“Offsetting does not provide a structural solution to the industry’s emissions growth,” says the report. “Hence, the introduction of RJF is likely necessary as an additional measure to achieve deep carbon reductions over the long term.”
“Governments should see the macro-economic and environmental benefits that may accompany the development of an advanced biofuel industry, such as job creation, energy security, rural development and innovation,” said Sierk de Jong, a lead author of the report and researcher based at the Copernicus Institute of Sustainable Development at Utrecht University.
The Full RJF adoption scenario assumes that RJF covers the entire emissions gap – no carbon offsetting is used – in which volumes grow from 1.3 Mt in 2021 to 14 Mt/yr by 2030 (representing 20% of total jet fuel use), with an accumulative 74 Mt of RJF being produced over the period. This scenario would require an extremely high rate of feedstock mobilisation and capacity deployment, including lignocellulosic biofuel production capacity to increase from virtually zero to 26 Mt/yr over the course of 15 years. As even more substantial RJF volume is required after 2030 to reach the industry’s target of halving net CO2 emissions by 2050, it is essential to have a long-term vision with a prominent role for early action such that significant volume growth can be achieved towards the middle of the century, says the report.
To achieve large-scale RJF deployment, substantial funds are of course required. In all four scenarios, a price premium is assumed to exist and likely to remain beyond 2030 irrespective of feedstock-technology combination, unless fossil jet fuel prices increase strongly or production costs reduce drastically.
He added: “CORSIA is a clear milestone, but we need biofuels to structurally reduce aviation emissions and contribute to COP21 targets. We therefore urge the industry and governments to continue their efforts to stimulate the development of biofuels for aviation.” READ MORE ‘Renewable Jet Fuel in the European Union’ Report