Battling Environmental Pollution

A major advantage of switching over to SAF is that it will not require any technical modifications in the existing fleet of aircraft thus obviating the need for fresh investment

Issue: 1 / 2022By B.K. PandeyPhoto(s): By Air BP
Neste and Air BP have entered into an innovative industry collaboration to support sustainable aviation fuel

It is an established fact that the growth of the global civil aviation industry which has been fairly rapid especially in recent years, has undoubtedly been beneficial to the economy of nations across the world. However, the rapid and widespread growth of the global aviation industry has also been accompanied by adverse effects on the environment that has also been increasing alongside. Particularly in the case of airliners that have a high rate of combustion of fuel, apart from high levels of noise, these platforms are responsible for emission of large quantities of gases such as Nitrogen Oxides as well as Carbon Dioxide into the atmosphere that leave a huge carbon footprint in the atmosphere. Designated as Greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, this has an adverse impact on the atmosphere as it directly affects the erosion of the ozone layer which in turn leads to global warming and climate change. Over the years, the polluting effect of the aviation industry on the atmosphere has been increasing and in the last two decades, the impact of the aviation sector on the climate had doubled. Today, the contribution of the global aviation industry towards environmental pollution stands at around 3.5 per cent.

Just over a decade ago, the global airline industry had committed to reduce carbon emissions by 50 per cent by 2050. It was the first to commit to an ambitious target before others even acknowledged that there was a problem climate of change. However, this commitment could not be honoured and the goals set by it have been overtaken by reality and has become a problem. The events indicate that the airlines were not able to do enough to fight for environmental sustainability.

The member airlines of the International Air Transport Association (IATA) as well as the aviation industry in general are committed to reducing emissions from aircraft. While alternative methods such as electrical propulsion is yet too far in the future, one practical option for the Indian civil aviation industry that has been identified as a means to achieve the laid down goals under the current situation, is the use of Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF). This has been identified as one of the options readily available under the existing circumstances to resolve the issue of environmental pollution by the aviation industry in the coming years. Compared to conventional fuel currently in use, SAF will almost be totally free of carbon content. In the process of changeover from conventional fuel to SAF, the exercise will impose a financial burden on airlines as initially, SAF will be more expensive as compared to conventional fuel. However, with the passage of time the volume of consumption of SAF will progressively increase and hence the cost of SAF will come down making it a more financially viable option for the airlines. SAF will therefore be the most achievable and effective route for airlines to take to reduce carbon emissions by the Indian airline industry in the immediate future. Support of the SAF industry by the Government of India and the Indian civil aviation industry would not only reduce carbon emissions; but would also combat air pollution from crop burning, create numerous green jobs, improve income of farmers and help solve waste management issues.

SAF is actually a biofuel that has properties similar to conventional jet fuel; but with a distinctly smaller carbon footprint. It is jet fuel made from various types of waste products that can help reduce carbon emissions. It can also be made from by products of agriculture. Depending on the feedstock and technologies used to produce it, compared to conventional jet fuel in use today, SAF can reduce life cycle GHG emissions considerably. Some newly developed SAF even have a negative GHG footprint. The good news is that today, India does have the technology to convert garbage, used cooking oil or agriculture residues into SAF. Production of SAF on a large scale is possible within the country which will not only help the aviation sector in India to reduce toxic emissions; but can also help boost the nation’s economy as the nation will no longer have to be dependent on foreign sources for import of presently used jet fuel. Another major advantage of switching over to SAF is that it will not require any technical modifications in the existing fleet of aircraft thus obviating the need for any fresh investment by the companies owing the airlines.

It appears that the Indian civil industry finally appears to be poised on the verge of breaking away from the use of convention jet fuel and enter into the domain of SAF to breathe new life into the industry.