Producing sustainable aviation fuel to supply the UK’s net-zero ambitions requires enormous quantities of UK agricultural land or renewable electricity to keep flying at today’s levels, the Royal Society has highlighted.
The Net zero aviation fuels: resource requirements and environmental impacts report warns there is no single, clear, sustainable alternative to jet fuel able to support flying on a scale equivalent to present day use.
The report explores these resource availability challenges, as well as likely costs, life-cycle impacts, infrastructure requirements and outstanding research questions across four fuel types, green hydrogen, biofuels (energy crops and waste), ammonia and synthetic fuels.
It estimates that meeting existing UK aviation demand entirely with energy crops would require around half of UK agricultural land. While producing sufficient green hydrogen fuel would require 2.4 to 3.4 times the UK’s 2020 renewable (wind and solar) electricity generation.
The report also identifies significant research requirements in scaling up net-zero fuels, from storage and handling, to environmental impacts including CO2 and non-CO2 emissions. Addressing these challenges requires global coordination, particularly for navigating the transition period between current and future generation aircraft.
“Research and innovation are vital tools for the delivery of net zero,” said Professor Graham Hutchings FRS, Regius Professor of Chemistry, Cardiff University, and chair of the report working group. “But we need to be very clear about the strengths, limitations, and challenges that must be addressed and overcome if we are to scale up the required new technologies in a few short decades.
“This briefing tries to pull together those realities, to allow policy makers to understand the future resource implications of today’s policy and R&D decisions and to support international dialogue on this global technology transition.”
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