Bizav’s carbon conundrum

 - June 29, 2009, 8:15 AM

With Europe set to begin cap-and-trade of aviation emissions in 2012, and Congress working on legislation that would cap the greenhouse gases that have been linked to global warming, Conklin & de Decker cofounder and president Bill de Decker is sounding the alarm for just how seriously the plans could affect business aviation.

Under H.R.2454, the “American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009,” the goal is to reduce CO2 emissions to 17 percent of 2005 levels by 2050, with intermediate reductions to 97 percent of 2005 levels by 2012, 80 percent by 2020 and 58 percent by 2030.

Applying his company’s new CO2 calculator, de Decker has estimated business aircraft emissions out to 2050 using forecasts and a 1-percent fuel-efficiency gain per year driven by technology advances. By de Decker’s calculations, in 2012, U.S. business aviation’s emissions are expected to be 15 million tons, while the allowable limit will be about 11 million tons; in 2020, 19.5 million versus about 9 million tons; in 2030, 33.6 million versus 6.6 million tons; and in 2050, 33.3 million versus 1.9 million tons.

“To meet the 2050 target will require an improvement in efficiency for the fleet of
8 percent for each year of the next 40 years if we keep on using jet-A and the fleet grows as forecast,” de Decker told AIN. “That is three to four times the average annual improvement in efficiency we have actually experienced between 1965 and today,” he said, calling that scale of improvement a “near impossibility.”

Burning one gallon of jet-A creates just over 21 pounds of CO2 and burning one gallon of avgas creates just over 22 pounds of CO2. Given these basics, the only way
for aircraft to decrease CO2 emissions is to increase fuel efficiency.

“The imagination of the design engineers is unbounded, but I think it will take us only partway to the target,” de Decker contends. “From a practical point of view, achieving the target is almost impossible without also having a drastic reduction in the growth of the fleet, extensive use of biofuels and extensive purchases of CO2 offsets.”

De Decker notes that the jury is still out on whether biofuels are really as carbon neutral as claimed, with some articles countering that ethanol is far from carbon neutral. “In either case,” de Decker predicts, “we are looking at serious constraints on growth and substantial increases in cost.”