One of the most common types of biofuel is ethanol, produced mainly from corn.
What might the future of flight look like?
Hopping onto a plane for a quick vacation down to Florida or to a resort in Mexico is a huge add-on to your early carbon footprint. Even if you’re not going that far, maybe just on a business trip from Montreal to Toronto, the environmental impact of air travel is significant...
Hopping onto a plane for a quick vacation down to Florida or to a resort in Mexico is a huge add-on to your early carbon footprint. Even if you’re not going that far, maybe just on a business trip from Montreal to Toronto, the environmental impact of air travel is significant.
Although the airline industry is not as big as most people imagine it to be, with estimates being that only about six per cent of the world’s population have flown in the past year, it produces about two per cent of CO2 emissions, contributing greatly to climate change.
There are some ways to reduce your carbon footprint from flying, such as buying carbon offsets, which is a type of credit for the reduction of greenhouse gases. Airlines are also taking steps to be more fuel efficient, which is motivated by keeping costs down as much as it is by environmental concern. Various methods include using lighter material for onboard equipment, restricting the weight of luggage and charging for extra, and designing seats to both lighten the aircraft load and be more efficient with space. All these tweaks have some small impact, but they don’t take away from the fact that most aircraft still operate on kerosene, which is a fossil fuel.
The future of flight will depend largely on the alternative fuels that are currently being developed to power aircraft. Although the ideal clean energy source would be something like solar, the commercial viability of such an aircraft is still several decades away, according to most experts. What airline industries are looking for is a solution that can be integrated into the aircraft systems they currently have, while research continues on more long-term projects.
Realistically, the greenest and most efficient energy source for air travel in the near future will likely be biofuels. Biofuel is exactly what the name suggests — fuel made from biological matter, such as algae and plants. These plants, like camelina, could absorb CO2 while they grow, before releasing it back into the atmosphere when used as fuel. In addition, aircraft engines wouldn’t need to be modified because biofuel meets the same specifications as petroleum-based fuel.
In October 2012, Canada’s National Research Council (NRC) flew the world’s first civil plane, a Falcon 20, powered by 100 per cent unblended biofuel. Another plane flew behind the jet, collecting samples for emissions testing. The NRC found that biofuel was cleaner and just as efficient as regular aircraft fuel. Research into the environmental effects of biofuel use is still ongoing. In April 2017, Air Canada participated in the NRC’s Civil Aviation Alternate Fuel Contrail and Emissions Research project, which measured the exhaust trails of five biofueled flights between Toronto and Montreal.
Other studies, where biofuel has been blended with traditional jet fuel, have found that particle emissions were reduced by at least 50 per cent in the test flights. So, if biofuel is cleaner and airlines don’t have to invest in upgrading aircraft engines, why is biofuel not more widely used? The issue comes down to cost, which mainly stem from lack of infrastructure for biofuel production and distribution. Currently, biofuel is about four times more expensive than conventional fuel.
The drive for greener energy solutions will only become more urgent as the air travel industry continues to grow rapidly. In the United States, airports like LAX in Los Angeles, have started to use biofuel in regular commercial operations. In 2016, Air Canada began a three-year project to introduce biofuel into the fuel supply system at Montreal-Trudeau International Airport. Biofuel is still relatively new, but with time, it is expected that costs will go down and biofuel will become a more viable alternative fuel.
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