Report: Future Aviation Will Require Massive Energy Growth

 - April 28, 2023, 2:48 PM
As low carbon aviation fuels increase in use, their production and necessary energy input will become a major infrastructure consideration. (Photo: Curt Epstein/AIN)

With sustainability a key area of focus for the aviation industry, design and engineering consultancy Atkins has released a white paper examining the energy requirements needed to meet future aviation demand.

Sustainable aviation fuel (SAF), hydrogen, and batteries have all been identified as potential low-carbon power sources for the next generations of aircraft, but the energy pathways to generate or store those sources will need to grow dramatically over the next half-century, according to the paper’s author.

While existing fossil-based jet fuel results in more energy being released when propelling the aircraft than is required to extract and refine it, production of the low-carbon fuel options under consideration is more energy intensive. Based on estimated energy efficiencies, the forecasted fuel mix, and the anticipated growth in the aviation sector, Atkins analysts predict that 44,000 terawatt hours (TWh) per year will be required by 2070 to meet the global aircraft fuel demand, a 5,700 percent increase from current aviation energy demands as the fleet transitions from fossil fuels, and nearly twice the world’s current electricity demand.

The paper noted that a new, large-scale 3.2 GW nuclear power station could be expected to generate 25 TWh of electricity per year, meaning it would take 1,800 of these stations to meet that demand. The paper noted that the power requirements could change over time depending on which of the spectrum of fuels proves prevalent, with SAF production requiring the least energy input and e-fuels the most.

“Whilst the mix of low carbon alternative fuel is yet to be determined, the production, storage, and transportation of fuels has implications for energy and airport infrastructure, and their emissions need to be considered across the whole lifecycle, from 'source to force',” said Andrew Caughey, Atkins’ sustainable aviation lead for aerospace.