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Can the UK reach net-zero in Aviation?

  • by: Ryan Abbot
  • On: 26, Aug 2022
3 min read

Aviation is currently responsible for around 2.5% of all CO2 emissions globally. That may not sound like much, but when you consider, that around 40 billion tonnes of CO2 is released into the atmosphere each year, even small percentages can have a big impact. 

With former customers turning down flights due to the environmental damage, many airports and airlines are looking at ways they can reduce their CO2 emissions. 

The UK has set out its Jet Zero strategy to reach net zero in domestic aviation by 2040 and for all airports to have achieved zero-emissions by the same year.

Individual airports, like Farnborough, have set out to meet this target even sooner, in just eight years. 

How Farnborough airport is aiming to reach net zero

Farnborough airport has adopted the goal of becoming net zero by 2030, an ambitious goal for a busy aviation hub. But they’ve proven before they’re capable of drastically reducing their carbon footprint: in 2018, it was the first business aviation airport in the world to achieve carbon neutral status, and over the last decade the airport has reduced its emissions by 70% by introducing LED lights, utilising electric vehicles, and using REGO energy (Reliable Energy Guarantees of Origin), energy produced through sustainable methods.

Farnborough was also the first airport in the world to offer sustainable aviation fuel at the same price as traditional fuel, to help push their vision for a net zero aviation industry. More initiatives like this will be needed to help push the aviation industry as a whole towards a greener future, but let’s look at how aviation can achieve net zero. 

How the Aviation industry can reach net zero

Sustainable Aviation Fuel

Sustainable aviation fuel is a greener alternative to traditional fuel. It can reduce lifecycle CO2 emissions by up to 80%, so is one of the fastest ways for airlines to drastically reduce their carbon footprint. 

SAF is made from waste materials such as household waste, sewage, or used cooking oil, so not only does it limit the emissions made from flying, it also helps clean up the planet while being made.

The government is introducing legislation to ensure at least 10% of jet fuel is sustainable aviation fuel by 2030. To support this, the government is planning at least 5 commercial-scale SAF plants in the UK by 2025. 

This will be vital, as the biggest barriers to widespread adoption are the production and purchase cost. These plants will help increase use of SAF not just in this country, but also around the world as more airlines begin to follow the UK’s example. 

Pioneering SAF projects can also now apply to the £165 million Advanced Fuels Fund, making it easier to get them off the ground. Hopefully over the coming decades we’ll see a more widespread adoption of SAF, and possibly even fully-electric planes

Modernise airports

It’s not just the planes and the fuel that contribute to pollution. The materials used in airport construction, the vehicles that carry passengers and luggage, the electricity used to run the lights and systems, everything has the potential to add to CO2 emissions if not carefully considered and upgraded to a new, green version. 

The UK government is providing £3.7 million between now and next year to help airports upgrade their existing infrastructure. 

Carbon Removal Technologies

While cutting down on emissions is a smart move, we can also begin to deal with the existing carbon dioxide and other pollutants in the atmosphere by actively removing it.

Greenhouse gas removal can be done through two ways. The simplest is by introducing more plants and trees into the local environment, capturing CO2 they use to grow. 

The second method of carbon removal is direct air capture (DAC) technology. The DAC market could potentially reach $100 billion by 2030. Airports will likely invest in both methods over the coming years, to help reduce their overall pollution levels. 

The aviation industry has a responsibility to lower its carbon emissions. There are many ways it can do this, as well as government funds available to help cover the costs of new fuel, aircraft, and infrastructure. If the UK can lead the way, hopefully other countries, airlines, and airports will be encouraged to lower their environmental impact using similar strategies. 

Read more about establishing strategies for sustainable aviation, or learn how the aviation industry is shifting to a digital strategy

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