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Sunday 17 October 2021

Aviation firms for “net zero” emissions ahead of target

Rolls-Royce, Airbus and Shell are investing in the technology required for "net zero"


By Ajai Shukla

Business Standard, 18th Oct 21


Just days before the start of the 2021 United Nations (UN) Climate Change Conference –referred to as Conference of the Parties or COP26 – three major aviation firms, Rolls-Royce, Airbus and Shell, have called for long-haul aviation to reduce emissions to “Net Zero” ahead of the UN Race to Zero goals for aviation. 


Under the UN’s Race to Zero goals the decarbonisation of aviation is to be achieved by a 10 per cent use of “sustainable aviation fuels” (SAF) by 2030, with the proportion reaching 100 per cent earlier than 2050. Rolls-Royce, Airbus and Shell say they are investing in the technology that could achieve that.


These firms say that, as technology enablers are created, the infrastructure, investment and policy frameworks necessary to support the scaling up of vital sustainable aviation fuels must also be put in place.


 Rolls-Royce has announced that, by 2023, all its “Trent” engines, which are used across a range of long-haul aircraft, will be proven compatible with 100 per cent SAF. 


Rolls-Royce has earlier committed to testing Trent models currently in production. That means that, within two years, Rolls-Royce will have proven that net zero carbon operation is possible with about 40 per cent of the world’s long-haul aircraft engines. 


Warren East, Chief Executive, Rolls-Royce, said: “Flying generates between 2-3 per cent of global emissions, but as easier-to-abate sectors decarbonise that proportion will increase… We need partners who share our vision for the use of SAFs as a solution for reducing emissions on long-haul flight.”


All Airbus aircraft are currently certified to operate on up to a 50 per cent blend of SAF mixed with kerosene. Airbus says it intends to achieve certification of 100 per cent unblended SAF by the end of this decade.


Sabine Klauke, Chief Technical Officer, Airbus, said: “There are multiple solutions to catalyse the global transition to decarbonised aviation… Today, all Airbus aircraft can run on blends of up to 50 per cent and we are working closely with our partners to accelerate this to 100 per cent by 2030. In the meantime, accelerating our progress on SAF will require a collective effort, and the time to act across sectors and companies is now.”


By 2025, Shell alone has committed to produce 2 million tonnes of SAF per year. That is more than 10 times the total amount of SAF produced globally today.



According to a company release, at least 10 per cent of Shell’s global aviation fuel sales will be SAF by the end of the decade. Shell is already building one of Europe’s biggest biofuels plants in the Netherlands, with production due to start in 2024.


Anna Mascolo, President Global Aviation, Shell, said: “Shell’s commitment is clear: within four years, we’ll produce 10 times as much SAF as is currently made by all producers across the world, with other industry players expected to step in to complement this ambition.”


New all-electric, hybrid-electric and hydrogen technologies will have a role to play in reducing the aviation industry’s use of fossil fuels over the medium to long-term. For long-haul aviation, the challenge of decarbonisation is particularly difficult. 


Aviation consumes around 290 million tonnes of fuel a year, and this is expected to grow as the sector resumes growth after the pandemic. Global SAF production will therefore have to increase significantly over the coming years to replace it. 


As a result, collaboration and a global enabling policy environment that matches the extent of the aviation industry’s technological ambitions are required to scale SAF production and significantly increase the pace of decarbonisation within the sector, say the three firms.

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