World Economic Forum Report Articulates Aviation’s Carbon Challenge

 - May 16, 2011, 7:41 AM
Algae has shown particular promise as a basis for aviation biofuel.

Global carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions by the aviation industry will increase three-fold by 2050 in spite of an industry goal to cut them in half, according to a new World Economic Forum report that identifies biofuels as one of the most promising ways to reduce aviation’s carbon footprint.

Titled “Policies and Collaborative Partnership for Sustainable Aviation,” the report notes that the industry’s 2050 carbon-reduction goal “would require seven times today’s global amount of first-generation biofuels, but of a sustainable, second-generation type.” According to the report, co-authored by Booz & Company, the rate of biofuel production would have to reach 13.6 million barrels a day by 2050.

The report cites biofuels made from algae and crops that do not compete for land or water with food crops, such as jatropha and salicornia, as well as forestry waste, as promising vehicles for CO2 abatement.

Air transport now accounts for 2 percent of global CO2 emissions. Based on an average projected annual growth of 4.5 percent, global air transport volume would double within 15 years, and by 2050 will increase six-fold, to about 3 billion revenue ton-kilometers transported, the study’s authors note. They predict a 3-percent year-over-year increase in CO2 emissions, leading to a three-fold increase in emissions by 2050 regardless of efficiency improvements.

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) has committed to average annual fuel-efficiency gains of 1.5 percent through 2020, leading to “carbon-neutral growth” and a 50-percent reduction in carbon emissions by 2050. The International Civil Aviation Organization has set a goal of 2 percent average annual fuel-efficiency gains.

The report identifies four “levers” to reducing emissions: improving infrastructure as planned under the U.S. NextGen and European Sesar programs, increasing aircraft R&D, accelerating biofuels production and implementing market-based measures for emissions trading or offsetting.

Giovanni Bisignani, IATA director general and CEO, commented on the report at the World Economic Forum in Cape Town, South Africa, on May 4. “Aviation is on the right track with its climate-change strategy and targets but some challenges remain,” he said. “The first is to commercialize the availability of biofuels, but big oil has been a big disappointment.… We need the big oil companies on board to generate commercial volumes that will drive the costs to economical levels.”