The Royal Society has produced a policy briefing on the options aviation has for enabling UK aviation to reach Net Zero by 2050 (far too late in our view). The conclusions of the briefing are stark and damning and they reinforce what aviation campaigners have been saying for a long time: it can’t be done.
First up, there is no single, clear, sustainable alternative to jet fuel that could support the current level of flying, let alone the dramatic expansion expected over the next few years (for which various UK airports are submitting planning applications for development).
The scientists say that there are question marks over the four fuel alternatives to what is currently being used. These include green hydrogen (made from water using renewable energy), biofuels (energy crops and waste), ammonia and synthetic fuels or e-fuels.
Producing enough biofuels would require about half of UK agricultural land, while other feedstocks such as municipal waste could only contribute “a very small fraction” of the jet fuel requirements says the briefing.
Making green hydrogen or ammonia in the quantities needed to power future planes would require well over double today’s entire UK renewable electricity generation capacity. E-fuels or synthetic fuels – which are made by capturing and converting carbon dioxide from the air – would require five to eight times today’s UK capacity.
So, what's the alternative? Does aviation have to scale back from where it is now?