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Study shows biojet fuels’ impact on UN’s sustainable goals

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According to a study published on Phys.org, two researchers from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology’s (NTNU) Industrial Ecology Programme have found that producing biojet fuels from forestry residues is good for the climate but can apply pressure to certain United Nations (UN) Sustainable Development Goals (SDG).

These SDGs are listed as: zero hunger, clean water and sanitation, and responsible consumption and production.

The study follows on from the Norwegian government’s 2030 goal that 30% of all jet fuels will be sustainably produced biofuels.

Despite the pressure biojet fuel could have on SDGs, the researchers state that the study will enable policy makers and engineers to implement improvements to reduce the impact to the SDGs, particularly as biojet fuels garner more interest within the industry.

“The options for aviation are very limited,” said Francesco Cherubini, the senior author of the paper and a professor in the Industrial Ecology Programme.

“If we want to decarbonize aviation, we must use biofuels. There is a lot of potential here.”

When looking at both short-term and long-term benefits of using biofuels, the researchers found that both alcohol-based jet fuels and synthetic gas-to-liquid biojet fuels (known as the Fischer-Tropsch process) had relatively lower climate impacts than conventional aviation fuel from a short (20-year) to a long (20-year) perspective.

However, the benefits from the biojet fuels were not as strong because of Near Term Climate Forcers (NTCFs), which are types of emissions that can affect the climate over a short-term but do not have a long-lasting change on global temperatures.

Despite this, the climate benefits of biojet fuel are important in the context of reducing global temperatures in accordance with outlined goals in the Paris Agreements. According to the study, 20% biojet fuel use in the Norwegian aviation sector can reduce climate impacts by an estimated 17%.

“This is one of the first papers to provide an overview of what will happen with SDGs, if a specific climate-friendly technology is deployed,” Otavio Cavalett, one of the authors of the study, said.

Results from the study did find however, that the Fischer-Tropsch process had lower initial climate impact than the alcohol-to-jet fuel technology, but the latter’s impacts could be improved with increasing the efficiency of the process.

Regardless, Cherubini outlined the importance of air travel towards modern society, despite its impacts on climate change.

“Getting people in contact has value,” Cherubini said. “The fact that people (in Europe) can get on a plane and go to the US in 6 hours has value for society.”

“The role of sustainability research is very important in identifying the technological improvements needed to achieve benefits across the different SDGs and to make a sustainable transition to a greener society. The technology can improve quite a lot if we keep this in mind.”

 

This article was written by Joshua Heer, junior editor of Biofuels International.