Biojet Fuels: Paving the way towards low-carbon aviation

In new analyses published this month, Ecofys outlines a pathway for harmonising different international sustainability criteria for biojet fuels. The studies also present design options for airlines to account and report those fuels. The work was carried out for IATA, the International Air Transport Association.

Current legislation in several countries demands airlines to comply with biofuel sustainability criteria used in road transport, most prominently the EU Renewable Energy Directive (RED) and the US Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS2). Ecofys has assessed the US and EU sustainability criteria to present a proposal for harmonising or mutually recognising differing international sustainability standards for biojet fuels. Their analysis shows a significant number of similarities although both standards use different calculation methodologies.

Common international standards required       
According to Ecofys, common voluntary metrics or even a meta-standard could define an obligatory minimum level of sustainability for all airlines, with key requirements like protection of biodiversity and greenhouse gas reduction. The work also provides an accounting system for reporting on the greenhouse gas saving effect of biojet fuels. As the biojet fuel will ultimately be distributed through a pipeline system at an airport, the green molecules cannot be tracked up to the aircraft tank.

However, ICAO, the International Civil Aviation Organization, is developing a global Market Based Measure (MBM) for international aviation, which would require reporting of carbon emissions. Using biojet fuels will help airlines to reduce their carbon emissions. Finding a robust approach to demonstrating sustainability and reporting those emissions reductions presents an essential policy step towards low carbon aviation.

“It is increasingly important to align global policy on sustainability standards. In an ideal situation, airlines would be able to purchase fuel from any location and use it on any flight and know that it complies with the given sustainability criteria”, says Matthias Spoettle, Bioenergy Consultant at Ecofys.

De-coupling emissions from growth       
Aviation is the fastest growing transport mode and is projected to grow by around five percent annually by 2050. At the same time the aviation industry aims to halve their carbon emissions by 2050 compared to 2005. Michael Gill, Director Aviation Environment at IATA states, “Passenger demand will increase. This is a tremendous economic opportunity, but we also face the challenge to grow in a sustainable manner. Ecofys has tackled a complex topic and provided some clear ideas for paving the path towards mutual recognitions of global sustainability standards”. IATA member airlines cover around 85 percent of all commercial flight operation. Already today, they are committed to using sustainable biomass for alternative aviation fuels.