While mitigating CO2 emissions from flights through the sale and purchase of carbon offsets or credits has been around for many years, no such market mechanism exists to address the non-CO2 climate impacts from flights, although some carbon offset providers will apply a simple multiplier to the CO2 emissions to account for them. Contrail prevention technology company SATAVIA is now working to develop a methodology concept that would deliver credits for mitigating climate warming caused by aircraft-induced clouds. The methodology has just been approved for progression by carbon and sustainable development standards body Gold Standard, which could pave the way for the future issuance of non-CO2 Certified Mitigation Outcome Units (CMOUs) to provide a credit-based incentive for aircraft operators implementing contrail management.
Aircraft-generated contrails are short-lived climate forcers (SLFCs) that cause surface warming, which may account for over 60% of aviation’s climate impact, around double that of direct CO2 emissions from aircraft, says SATAVIA.
“SLFCs are an important and growing field of climate impact mitigation, pioneered by Gold Standard in 2015,” said Owen Hewlett, Chief Technical Officer at Gold Standard. “It is clear that in order to combat the climate crisis, we need to couple a serious conversation about the volume and necessity of flights with a significant reduction in the impact of flying.”
Cambridge, UK-based SATAVIA has been working with airlines including Etihad to develop a contrail management platform called DECISION:NETZERO that optimises flight plans for contrail prevention, incorporating contrail likelihood forecasts based on atmospheric and climate science. The platform is designed to validate contrail prevention and achieved climate benefit, using atmospheric modelling and observational data. The company is seeking to build a methodology to convert the achieved climate benefit into future carbon equivalent units that can be traded on voluntary carbon exchange platforms.
“SATAVIA’s methodology is an example of a novel activity addressing SLFCs and will provide aircraft operators with a clear incentive to implement contrail management in day-to-day activity, making a tangible reduction of aviation’s climate impact,” said Hewlett.
Approved for progression, SATAVIA is now aiming to get approval from Gold Standard’s Technical Advisory Committee and has ambitions to achieve Design Certification later this year or early 2024. According to SATAVIA, this will then enable the issuance of contrail CMOUs against declared aviation non-CO2 climate impact inventories, so ensuring their use in support of contrail management activity. It stresses CMOUs will be subject to sector-specific rules and restrictions, so limiting their use to in-sector stakeholders, and in parallel, Gold Standard will also develop registry functionality to allow CMOU trading.
SATAVIA says it will seek CMOU recognition from ICAO in respect of the UN agency’s CORSIA offsetting scheme for international aviation, “with the aim of bringing contrail management incentives to the widest possible market.”
Commented the company’s CEO, Dr Adam Durant: “Our practical approach to contrail mitigation offers an incentive for aircraft operators to immediately start cutting their non-CO2 climate footprint, which we hope will drive rapid adoption across the industry. As a software solution incorporating the excellent and decades-mature atmospheric science available to us, contrail management provides the airline sector with an immediate and tangible option to reduce the climate impact of flying.
“With the incentive provided by Gold Standard CMOUs, aviation could reduce its non-CO2 impact by perhaps 50% before 2030. All we need is a willingness to adopt this approach that, importantly, doesn’t require any changes to regulation and could be deployed at scale today.”
SATAVIA has so far worked with Etihad, KLM and KLM Cityhopper, and Emirates, in addition to multiple operator demonstrations supported by the UK-based European Space Agency through the Business Applications programme.
Since starting aircraft operator contrail management trials in 2021, SATAVIA said having now worked with nine airlines, results had shown on average around a 75-tonne CO2-equivalent saving per flight, with a fuel impact of 0.1% on modified flights only.
“This exciting development will supercharge industry progress towards greener flight operations,” said Mariam Musallam Al-Qubaisi, Head of Sustainability and Business Excellence at Etihad Airways. “By implementing small navigational changes to a minority of flights, Etihad can use SATAVIA technology to prevent contrails and generate CMOUs to support new and more sustainable business models.”
Professor Sir Iain Gray of Cranfield University, Chair of the UK’s Jet Zero Council Task & Finish Group on aviation’s non-CO2 effects, commented: “The aviation sector has, and remains, focused on finding ways to cut CO2 emissions but it is also widely understood that aviation has significant non-CO2 impacts, such as contrails. It’s great to see a UK-based SME leading on ways in which to address contrail management and help mitigate this climate-warming effect.”
EU lawmakers believe non-CO2 effects on climate from aviation are at least as important as the impact of CO2 alone. An agreement earlier this year between the European Council, representing EU member states, and the European Parliament on changes to the EU Emissions Trading System provides for the Commission to implement a monitoring, reporting and verification (MRV) system for non-CO2 effects in aviation from 2025. By 2027, the Commission is expected to submit a report based on the MRV and, by 2028, after an impact assessment, make a proposal to address non-CO2 effects.
Photo: SATAVIA/Gold Standard