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Airlines Making Blue Skies Green

Airlines Making Blue Skies Green

Saurage Research Energy Key FindingsAs emerging economies grow and globalization makes the world smaller, more people are taking to the skies. According to the International Air Transport Association, global passenger traffic demand increased 5.9% in 2014, above the 10-year average growth rate of 5.6%. In the U.S. alone, the Federal Aviation Administration expects national carriers, which served 756 million passengers in 2014, to carry one billion passengers in 2029 and 1.14 billion by 2035.

In addition to the increase in air travel demand, volatile fuel prices and concerns about the impact aviation has on climate change are driving the need to explore fuel alternatives. Climate change is a significant global concern and the aviation industry has established ambitious goals to reduce its carbon emissions. Through new aircraft purchases, fleet modifications, operational improvements, and other innovations, the aviation industry is working toward being environmentally sustainable as well as responsible. Besides sustainability concerns, fuel is a major cost driver for airlines. According to the CIT Aerospace Outlook report, 44% of global airline fleet and finance executives cite volatile fuel prices as a top challenge for the industry over the next two years. 50% of them expect prices to rise in the next 18 months, and 80% expect fuel prices to rise in the next three years. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, there was a 14.05% decrease of U.S. jet fuel from December 2015 to January 2016, however the price has steadily increased throughout the year, up 12.99% as of May 2016.

Recycling and composting have been around awhile, but did you ever think that one day our efforts to help the planet could provide an alternative to jet fuel? Things like household trash and agricultural waste are proving to be viable alternatives to the crude oil from which traditional jet fuel is sourced. The aviation industry is taking notice and investing in companies that produce biofuels. United Airlines recently invested $30 million in Fulcrum Bioenergy, a company working to convert household trash into renewable jet fuel that is expected to reduce carbon emissions by more than 80%. Last year, Boeing announced a breakthrough in green diesel, a renewable that emits at least 50% less carbon dioxide than fossil fuels. Southwest Airlines and FedEx are partnering with Red Rock Biofuels, which produces drop-in-aviation fuel made from woody biomass, and British Airways is partnering with Solena Group to convert municipal solid waste into jet fuel.

In total, the U.S. transportation sector – which includes cars, trucks, planes, trains, ships, and freight – produced nearly 30% of all U.S. global warming missions. Only the electricity sector accounts for more. The aviation industry has made greater strides in fuel efficiency than the auto industry, accounting for only 2% of global CO2 emissions.

This energy diversification is a historic milestone for aviation. Incorporating biofuels into regular operations is a big undertaking, as any new biofuels must be absolutely reliable for carrying passengers into the skies. With the aviation industry getting behind biofuel technology and continuing to make strides in operational efficiency, it is only a matter of time before passengers will be jet-setting across the globe in new, more sustainable ways.



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  • S. power plants used renewable energy sources, including water, wind, biomass wood and waste, geothermal, and solar, to generate about 13% of the electricity produced in the United States during 2015.
  • Power generation is a leading cause of air pollution and the single largest source of U.S. global warming emissions. Coal is the worst offender, a dirty energy source that produces less than half our electricity but nearly 80% of all power plant carbon emissions.
  • The sun could be the world’s largest source of electricity by 2050, ahead of fossil fuels, wind, hydro and nuclear, according to a pair of reports issued by the International Energy Agency (IEA).
  • The World Bank offered a forecast that 2016 oil would fall 4% from an average price per barrel of $49.70 to $47.70 based on Brent, Dubai and West Texas Indicators for crude oil. After 2016, The World Bank expects crude oil prices to steadily increase with a projection of $56.90 in 2020 and $70.80 in 2025 in terms of real U.S. dollars rather than nominal dollars.

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