Experts Gather in New Orleans to Discuss Sustainable Aviation Fuel
NEW ORLEANS – You’ve heard of electric cars and trucks – but electric airplanes? That’s not a thing … at least not yet. Some experts think electric commercial aircraft could be in operation two decades from now but, in the meantime, the aviation industry has to come up with other ways to reduce carbon emissions and do its part to battle climate change. The solution is finding sustainable alternatives to traditional liquid hydrocarbon fuels.
On Nov. 14 and 15, some of the world’s brightest scientists, engineers and airline industry experts will convene to discuss this topic at the annual Sustainable Aviation Fuel Symposium at the Roosevelt Waldorf Astoria Hotel. The event is produced by the International Air Transport Association (IATA), which is the trade group for 290 airlines worldwide.
One scientist attending the event is Dr. Massimiliano Materazzi, a research fellow at University College London and a member of a team that won a sustainable aviation fuels academic challenge sponsored by British Airways. Materazzi and his colleagues devised a way to power a long-haul flight for at least five hours and produce zero CO2 emissions
Materazzi’s solution would turn household waste into jet fuel, building plants to convert the waste near landfill sites across the country. The team estimates that this could deliver 3.5 million tons of jet fuel annually by 2050, resulting in “negative emissions” and the equivalent of taking more than 5.5 million cars off the road every year.
“The waste-to-fuel concept is not novel,” Materazzi told BizNewOrleans. “There are already many airlines and industries working on similar projects. The novelty of our idea is that it combines the use of renewable sources like wind and solar with a well-known but less established thermochemical process for solid waste treatment, technically known as gasification. The synergy between the two technologies makes the process very competitive as it fully unlocks the potential of cheap and abundant feedstock like municipal waste and agricultural waste by converting their entire carbon content into fuel.”
Materazzi says the big problem of sustainable fuels is lack of feedstock availability. Less than one percent of total aviation fuel currently comes from sustainable sources, mostly vegetable oil and animal fat. Materazzi says his vision is to harvest energy from a wider variety of sources – and that is, of course, certainly something that would capture the attention of the industry.
He’s optimistic that sustainable fuels will make a big impact in the next few decades. The IATA itself predicts that if research continues at its current pace, up to one billion passengers will have flown on a sustainable-blend fuel flight by 2025 (although that would still only account for 2 percent of all flights).
“I don’t see the alternative,” said Materazzi. “You can convince people to recycle more or eat less meat but it’s more challenging to tell them to fly less. … If we are not able to address the climate consequences of flying, through the large deployment of sustainable fuels, then I fear that other restrictions will need to be in place to reduce mobility, and that would be a big step backward for society.”
The Sustainable Aviation Fuel Symposium continues Nov. 14 and 15 with participants from the airlines, fuel suppliers, airports and others in the industry.