• Emily Lombardo

The future of carbon neutral flying?

Two weeks ago, a Lufthansa cargo plane achieved an incredible first. No, it wasn’t impeccable delivery time, but surely that was an additional perk. The flight was their first carbon-neutral flight in commercial aviation history!


Lufthansa had been offering consumers the option to determine the total of their carbon emissions during each point of the cargo journey since November of this year as well as the option to buy carbon offsets. However, their carbon-neutral flight, departing from Frankfurt, Germany to Shanghai, China was achieved not through purchasing offsets but by the use of Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF) alone.


In 2018, commercial aviation globally was responsible for 1.04 billion tonnes of CO2 emissions which were approximately 2.5% of total global emissions for the year. That may sound small in comparison, the solutions for combatting CO2 emissions and other aviation-related pollutants while keeping planes up and flying is more complicated than say converting cars to electricity or other renewable energy sources.


That’s where SAF comes into the picture. Certified for commercial aviation use in 2011, SAF is made of a mix of biomass; waste products including used cooking oils, agricultural and forestry residues, and municipal solid wastes. There’s no need to buy offsets for the flight to be carbon neutral either. The biomass (from trees, plants, and agricultural residue, etc.) used to make SAF has already absorbed an amount of CO2 from the atmosphere. So while the SAF does release CO2 emissions during the flight, the amount is no greater than the amount of CO2 initially absorbed by the biomass, making the flight carbon neutral. SAF has been mixed in with commercial kerosene and conventional jet fuel but now there are more and more tests with aircraft that can run on 100 percent SAF fuel.


SAF doesn’t come without drawbacks of course. While the use of 100% SAF fuel is enough to qualify flights as carbon neutral, the emissions that come from the materials, the production, storage, and transportation of SAF have yet to be calculated. If not done ethically, the desire for increased production of SAF could lead to worse deforestation efforts in order to get the necessary biomass needed for making SAF. Plus, as it stands, SAF is also currently two to five times the price of conventional jet fuel making it only available to a few airports and governments in developed nations.


While airports and governments start to figure out how to scale SAF up and further develop technologies that will allow us to more effectively convert waste into sustainable resources. Dallas Fort Worth airport is an interesting example of how SAF could help create a ‘closed circle’ economy by making SAF out of the thousands of liters of used cooking oil generated by the food and beverage outlets within the airport. DFW has announced their plans to become carbon neutral by 2030 and if they are able to use SAF effectively and sustainably, it could become an example for a global aviation model.


Where are the future of SAF and other alternative fuels? How can we create a future for transportation that is equitable to humans and to our environment? We’d love to hear more! Join the conversations via our Instagram channel, or say hi to the team at hello@thecapture.club


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