A new report on sustainable aviation says an annual average investment of $175 billion will be needed from now until 2050 for the air transport sector to meet its target of net zero carbon emissions. It also says the current project pipeline for sustainable aviation fuel must increase five-to-sixfold by 2030, requiring 300 new production plants, and estimates that SAF production levels “need to increase by a factor of 3,000-7,000 within less than three decades”. The report was produced by the Mission Possible Partnership (MPP), a collective of climate action leaders committed to decarbonising the world’s highest-emitting industries, and the Clean Skies for Tomorrow Coalition (CST), a global SAF advocacy group led by the World Economic Forum, reports Tony Harrington. “An unmitigated aviation sector would be responsible for 22% of emissions by 2050,” warned MPP CEO Matt Rogers. Those endorsing the transition strategies outlined in the report include Airbus, American Airlines, Air France-KLM, easyJet, bp and Shell.
Aviation, which accounts for approximately 3% of global CO2 emissions, is one of seven hard-to-abate industries for which the MPP is developing customised strategies to decarbonise within 10 years. The others are shipping, trucking, steel, aluminium, cement and chemicals, which, together with air transport, produce 30% of global emissions. Predicated on a global carbon budget of 1.5°C, the most ambitious temperature target of the Paris Agreement, the report, ‘Making Net-Zero Aviation possible: An industry-backed, 1.5-degree-celsius aligned Transition Strategy’, calls for immediate action within this decade, and details stepped strategies for the sector to achieve carbon-neutral growth until 2030, a halving of emissions until 2040 and net zero emissions by 2050. It also highlights the implications of the plan on the broader energy system and the airline industry, as well as the capital investments and policy actions required for success.
“Bringing aviation on a path to net zero emissions by 2050 requires a doubling of historical fuel efficiency gains of aircraft, a rapid roll-out of sustainable aviation fuels and the market entry of novel propulsion aircraft (hydrogen, battery-electric or hybrid aircraft) in the mid-2030s,” says the MPP report. “Currently, about 0.05-0.10 Mt SAF are produced per year, only a tiny fraction of the global fuel demand of about 320 Mt jet fuel. Also, current project pipelines of about 8 Mt are insufficient and need to be scaled up by a factor of 5-6 to supply 40-50 Mt SAF by 2030. That SAF volume could require about 300 SAF plants.”
Further, it adds: “Until 2050, 300-370 Mt SAF could be required to fulfil the jet fuel demand of a net-zero aviation sector. Hence, current SAF production levels need to increase by a factor of 3,000-7,000 within less than three decades.”
For aviation to fund its transition to net zero emissions, the report estimates average annual investments between 2022 and 2050 of around $175 billion – roughly equivalent to the GDPs of Berlin or Amsterdam – and said 95% of this capital expenditure would be needed for fuel production and upstream assets generating renewable electricity.
“Although average fuel costs are increasing in the net-zero scenario, the cost of flying could remain stable if the higher costs of SAFs compared with fossil jet fuel are counterbalanced by increased efficiency gains,” predicts the MPP. “Hydrogen and battery-electric aircraft can make aviation more efficient starting in the 2030s and could potentially supply up to a third of the final energy demand by 2050.”
The report estimates that by 2050, the aviation sector could account for 5-10% of global demand for renewable electricity and 10-30% of demand for hydrogen. Air transport would also need a substantial share of the feedstocks required to produce SAF, with the MPP estimating demand for up to 25% of global sustainable biomass, and between 600 and 850 Mt of CO2 captured from the atmosphere and transformed into sustainable liquid fuels for aviation. This is contentious, it argues, as demand for such feedstocks is also high for other competing products, such as renewable diesel fuel, which is deemed by many to be a more effective use of scarce ingredients to cut carbon emissions.
The MPP said all sections of the aviation value chain were represented in the report, with signatories including 27 airlines in 19 countries, 1,950 airports in 185 countries, 10 aircraft manufacturers and suppliers, 21 fuel producers and upstream energy suppliers, and five large customers or investment platforms.
“MPP is mapping critical strategies how to turn the paper goals of annual climate summits into action,” said Rogers. “An unmitigated aviation sector would be responsible for 22% of emissions by 2050. This transition strategy outlines plans and projects that are high on the agenda of ambitious companies, including the ‘nuts and bolts’ of how to build 300 sustainable aviation fuel plants by 2030.”
Johan Lundgren, CEO of easyJet, one of the report’s signatories, said novel propulsion technologies including hydrogen represented the most sustainable solution for short haul airlines. “The adoption of these technologies will help reduce the climate impact of our operations, while preserving the immense economic and social benefits that aviation brings to the world. We therefore support the Mission Possible Partnership Aviation Transition Strategy.”
In addition to the report, the MPP has launched the Aviation Net Zero Transition Explorer, a sectoral interactive tool to provide visual representation of the report, with functionality to adjust key technology and cost drivers to customise decarbonisation scenarios and illustrate how different levels of innovation and climate ambition impact the speed and cost of transition.
Its Aviation Transition Strategy, said the MPP, “provides a shared vision of the industry’s low-carbon future, detailing real economy milestones not just for 2050, but also for the near term.”