Delegates to COP27 will travel to the conference with net zero emissions, rather than contributing to climate change. Etihad Airways has partnered with World Energy in order for the first Net-Zero flight powered by Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF) Book & Claim to deliver sustainable and eco-friendly energy delegates.
What’s Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF)?
According to the US Department of Energy, SAF is a biofuel used to power aircraft which has similar properties to regular jet fuel, but leaves behind a smaller carbon footprint. Depending on the materials used to produce it and the technologies employed, SAF could dramatically reduce lifecycle GHG emissions compared to conventional jet fuel. Some newer SAF pathways even have a net-negative GHG footprint.
SAFs lower carbon intensity makes it an important solution for reducing aviation GHGs, which make up a significant portion of US transportation GHG emissions, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.
- An estimated 1 billion dry tons of biomass, which is enough to produce 50–60 billion gallons of low-carbon biofuels, can be collected sustainably each year in the United States. Possible sources include:
- Corn grain
- Oil seeds
- Other fats, oils, and greases
- Agricultural residues
- Forestry residues
- Wood mill waste
- Municipal solid waste streams
- Wet wastes (manures, wastewater treatment sludge)
- Dedicated energy crops
This vast resource can meet the projected fuel demand of the US aviation industry, produce additional volumes of drop-in low carbon fuels for use in other modes of transportation, and produce high-value bioproducts and renewable chemicals. SAF grown from renewable and waste resources can create new economic opportunities for farmers, improve the environment, and even boost aircraft performance.
Because it doesn’t go through the same process as fossil fuels in traditional oil refineries, and its carbon attributes follow all state and US federal regulations for advanced biofuels, its lifecycle carbon emissions are up to 85% lower than regular jet fuel. Right now, it’s approved for a 50/50 blend with conventional jet fuel for commercial use, but World Energy is still collaborating with other industry leaders to gain approval pure, 100% renewable SAF so that we can have a future of aviation reliant on net-zero fossil fuels .
The Journey To COP27
The airline will operate its Washington Dulles to Abu Dhabi service, which is routed via COP27 venue Sharm-El-Sheik. This demonstration shows the only current feasible path to net-zero commercial aviation using technology. It also showcases SAF opportunities and challenges.
“This initiative is about proving Net-Zero commercial aviation is possible, but equally facing up to the significant logistical challenges the industry faces to turn the possible into the routine,” said Mariam Alqubaisi, Head of Sustainability & Business Excellence, Etihad Airways. “Etihad endeavors to make good on the rigorous commitment towards sustainable aviation through the Greenliner programme in partnership with Boeing, GE and other aviation leaders in 2020, followed by the addition of the Sustainabile50 programme in partnership with Airbus and Rolls Royce, coupled with our commitment to achieving net zero emissions by 2050 and halving our net emission levels by 2035.”
By Etihad enabling delegates to travel 10,000km without emissions to COP27, it will buy (or book) SAF for the provided flight by fueling partner World Energy. The fuel used for this particular flight will be conventional Jet-A1, but the physical SAF that has been purchased by Etihadwill still be delivered into the Los Angeles International Airport’s (LAX) fuel system and used on flights operated by other airlines out of LAX.
The Book & Claim system is the go-to model for SAF use and distribution in aviation and energy industries. With flying becoming increasingly more popular, there’s a higher demand now than ever before for sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF). This method includes transactions that have been verified by an outsider and comply with Roundtable on Sustainable Biomaterials’ guidance.
“Aviation is how the world connects but we are on a collision course as flying people and goods is one of the most carbon-intensive things humans do. Aviation is on an unsustainable trajectory as it is projected to continue to account for an ever-greater share of global carbon emissions. But there is a way off this course,” said Gene Gebolys, CEO, World Energy. “The course correction will come from the fuel tank rather than the cockpit. Together, we can efficiently change the fuel we fly on so we can change the impact of flying. We are grateful to corporate leaders like Etihad who are paving the way to help make net-zero aviation a reality.”
Although guests will not have to pay an additional fee, it is difficult to fly without charging each passenger or cargo shipment a surcharge because the cost of SAF is four times higher than JetA1.
Etihad Airways will become the world’s first airline to fly a commercial airliner across the Atlantic while managing non-CO2 effects through contrail avoidance prediction and flight planning. This is possible by tokenizing and trading CO2e avoidance credits, which partially offset operational and handling costs. In addition, other sources are helping minimize these extra cost such as government subsidies reducing the SAF cost by 50% and 28% from the Corporate Conscious Choice programme. Etihad Guest Raffle members will also provide support with 22% of necessary funds.
Since 2020, Etihad has been running a series of “EcoFlight” tests to develop its Greenliner programme. The Net-Zero flight will be the latest in this series and will test and prove various concepts.
Is It Really Zero Emissions?
The press release is careful to refer to this flight as “net zero emissions” and not “zero emissions.” As pointed out above, whether that’s true depends heavily on whether the feedstocks for making the fuels come from sources that were going to end up in the atmosphere or contributed to atmospheric CO2. By at least getting a flight out of them instead of just having the materials rot CO2 into the air through decomposition, the theory is that they’ll at least get some good out of the emissions that were going to happen anyway.
Another gotcha in the information we’ve been given is that the flight was subsidized. If private citizens were to book a flight with the same fuel and pay for the tokenized carbon credits to make up for the regular fuel portion of the mix, you can expect to pay a lot more for a ticket. So, it pays to have governmental and/or corporate backers, right?
But, ultimately, it’s just a showboat flight and a proof of concept that could be done without heavy subsidies at some point in the future. But, it can only be part of the solution as part of a diverse mix of electrification, avoiding travel, and other measures to prevent climate change.
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