Carbon-neutral flight is definitely possible in the future, but in reality aircraft will still be powered by fossil fuels. However, as we attempt to build towards a climate-neutral world, it is agreed that the CO2 that they produce must be systematically kept underground. Researchers have come to the conclusion that this will be the most economical approach for the near future of aviation.
It is quite commonly known in 2021 that we must strive towards reducing our effect on planet Earth and aviation/flight is no exception to this. It is possible to achieve this, and there are multiple ways to go about it.
It has been determined that the most cost-effective way to make aviation less harmful to the environment is to remove the CO2 that is produced by the aircraft’s engines using CO2 capture plants and permanently store it underground. The technology needed to do this already exists, and storage facilities like these have been in use in the North Sea and other places for years.
This could become a viable solution to this problem, if it were imposed by governments by introducing financial incentives for achieving certain climate-related goals.
How Does It Work?
There are two different ways in which CO2 can be collected. It can be captured directly from the air or indirectly where a site burns organic material, such as at a waste incineration plant. Almost half of the carbon in the waste that is burned within incinerators comes from fossil sources/fuels, for example plastic that has been created from petroleum. The second half is organic material, like wood, cardboard or paper.
From a climate change and actions point-of-view, collecting and storing the carbon that has been produced from fossil sources is what’s called zero-sum game. It is quite literally sending the carbon that originally was underground, back to where it came from.
Then for the carbon that has come from the organic material, this was always being absorbed from the air in the form of CO2 by plants (i.e. flowers). Storing this type of carbon is an indirect way of removing CO2 from the atmosphere. By utilizing both of these methods, it shows the Carbon Capture and Storage (CSS), is a viable way to make flight carbon-neutral. Scientists have also been able to prove that the indirect method of collecting carbon from the air is significantly cheaper than the direct method, which is also possible.
What About Synthetic Fuel?
As an alternative option, the production of synthetic flight fuel has also been explored. This field would be created directly from the CO2 that is captured from the air, and is known as Carbon Capture and Utilization (CCU). However, the chemical procedure of synthesising the fuel turned out to be very energy intensive, which makes it not a viable option financially.
This adds up making CCU at least three times more expensive than CCS. It may also be even harmful to the environment if the energy used to make the fuel comes from a fossil-fuel burning plant, which could cancel out the fuel’s impact and be even more harmful to the environment!
There are places in the world where CCU could make a difference. Places where a good amount of renewable energy is already being produced would make sense, as if the synthetic fuel was made with clean energy there would be no harm done to the environment, and more carbon would be removed from the atmosphere. It is expected that the price of both of these technologies will come down as modern technology advances and it becomes adopted at scale.
Are There Any Other Options?
Aside from these two great options, the scientists working on this issue have emphasised that there are also many other options that could help bring flight to a carbon-neutral stage. Electric-powered and hydrogen-powered are both options that should be taken very seriously, but each avenue has their drawbacks. Aircrafts that are powered by electricity are not a realistic option at the moment as their batteries weigh too much for long flights.
Hydrogen power is still very much in its infancy, and the aircraft and the infrastructure will have to be built from the ground up before it can even be considered an option. This, as you can imagine, will take a while.
So what do you think is our best option at achieving carbon-neutral flight? CCS will still need a lot of infrastructure to be built before it can start operating, but the great thing is that the CCS technology is not just limited to aviation, it can be used for everything that produces carbon! We would love to hear if you have any thoughts or opinions on the exciting and important development in the field of climate change. Let us know in the comments!