What’s going on here?

Low-emission flights will face significant challenges to get off the ground, according to a new report by the Royal Society. Green aviation is a vital pillar of the UK’s net zero strategies, but the authors warn there’s no one simple alternative that could replace jet fuel.

What does this mean?

To reduce a plane’s emissions, you need to run it on a greener fuel. The report looks at four options: hydrogen, ammonia, synthetic e-fuels, and biofuels. It concluded that none could replace  traditional jet fuel in the short term.

The authors found that biofuel is too land-intensive to replace jet fuel. We’d need to use half of all the UK’s farmland just to grow enough biofuel feedstock to produce the 12.3 million tonnes the industry uses every year.

By contrast, green hydrogen is too energy-intensive. The UK doesn’t currently generate enough renewable electricity to make the amount of hydrogen needed. Plus, all planes and infrastructure would have to be converted to run on the new fuel.

Why should we care?

Flying produces more emissions per kilometre travelled than any other form of transport. Aviation currently creates around 8% of the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions, and demand for flights is expected to increase in the coming decades.

To try and curb this, the government aims to hit “jet zero” by 2050. They’re hoping to turn to green fuels to make the dream of climate-friendly flights a reality.

But there’s a long way to go to develop green aviation fuels that are safe, viable around the world, and contain enough energy to lift a plane into the air. The scientists say further research is needed to develop fuels that lower emissions from flying without too many negative knock-on effects.

Be curious!

📽️ Watch this video summary of the report’s findings.

📋 Read the full report by the Royal Society.

✈️ Find out how flying compares to other forms of transport.

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