GREENAIR NEWSLETTER 22 SEPTEMBER 2020
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Airbus plots course for zero-emission hydrogen-powered commercial aircraft to enter service in 2035
Tue 22 Sept 2020 – Airbus has unveiled three zero-emission concept commercial aircraft that could enter service by 2035, each relying on hydrogen as a primary power source. The three hydrogen hybrid aircraft designs, all codenamed ZEROe, include a turbofan design aircraft powered by a modified gas-turbine engine running on hydrogen rather than jet kerosene, a similarly powered turboprop aircraft and a blended-wing body aircraft design. The turbofan and blended-wing body aircraft would have a range of around 2,000 nautical miles and carry up to 200 passengers, with the short-haul turboprop capable of carrying up to 100 passengers on flights of 1,000 nautical miles. Airbus expects to launch a hydrogen ground demonstrator aircraft next year and undertake a first flight of a demonstrator in 2025. CEO Guillaume Faury said the announcement of the ZEROe programme was an historic moment for the commercial aviation sector and the most important transition the industry had yet seen.
“The concepts offer the world a glimpse of our ambition to drive a bold vision for the future of zero-emission flight,” he said. “I strongly believe that the use of hydrogen – both in synthetic fuels and as a primary power source for commercial aircraft – has the potential to significantly reduce aviation’s climate impact.”
Airbus Chief Technology Officer Grazia Vittadini said liquid hydrogen – formed when freezing hydrogen gas at -253 degrees C – had the same energy level as fossil jet fuel and a third of the weight but its volume was four times as much, which required a redesign of aircraft. The turbofan design would see the liquid hydrogen stored and distributed via tanks located behind the rear pressure bulkhead, while the exceptionally wide fuselage of the blended-wing body opens up multiple options for hydrogen storage and distribution, and for cabin layout, explained Airbus. In addition to using liquid hydrogen as fuel for combustion with oxygen, hydrogen fuel cells can create electrical power that complements the gas turbine, resulting in a highly efficient hybrid-electric propulsion system, it said. The company estimates hydrogen has the potential to reduce aviation’s CO2 emissions by up to 50%.
The demonstrator programme will evaluate and validate the concept aircraft and assess whether they could be matured into viable future products, with efforts focused on a number of technological pathways. “It is fundamental to get this right,” said Vittadini. If all goes to plan, Airbus expects to make a final selection on the hydrogen technology pathway in 2024, with a full-scale aircraft prototype estimated to arrive towards the end of the decade. “The timeline is ambitious but our conviction is strong,” she added.
“As recently as five years ago, hydrogen propulsion wasn’t even on our radar as a viable emission-reduction technology pathway,” explained Glenn Llewellyn, Airbus VP, Zero Emission Aircraft. “But convincing data from other transport industries quickly changed all that. Today, we’re excited by the incredible potential hydrogen offers aviation in terms of disruptive emissions reduction.”
“The transition to hydrogen, as the primary power source for these concept planes, will require decisive action from the entire aviation ecosystem,” cautioned Faury.
Examples include airports being required to add significant hydrogen transport and refuelling infrastructure to meet the needs of day-to-day operations. Airbus called on governments to also help meet the objectives through funding support for research and mechanisms to encourage the use of sustainable fuels, and renewal of aircraft fleets to allow airlines to retire older, less environmentally-friendly aircraft earlier.
“Together with the support from government and industrial partners, we can rise to this challenge to scale up renewable energy and hydrogen for the sustainable future of the aviation industry,” said Faury.
Commenting on the Airbus announcement, Harry Boneham, Aerospace and Defense Associate Analyst at data and analytics company GlobalData, said: “This signals that Airbus recognises the environmental impact of commercial aviation and is realigning to conform to a market in which consumers demand climate responsibility. It has been identified that zero-emission aircraft with a range of up to 1,200nm will reduce airport NOx emissions by 60%, reduce fuel use and direct CO2 emissions by 40%, and account for 80% of all departures. Given that the capabilities of these models exceed this threshold, Airbus has positioned itself in a commanding position for the medium and long-term market.
“Additionally, that the passenger capacity is comparable to contemporary narrow-body aircraft, such as the A320neo and B737 MAX, is also encouraging. This will make for an easier transition from these older models to the zero-emission designs, as it will be a straight swap with little adaptation to fleet size and flight frequency necessary. In order not to lose market share, particularly in the narrow-body segment, Boeing must now develop its own low-emission offerings. Ultimately, these developments are positive for the industry, pushing it in a direction which is sustainable and aligns with shifting passenger demand.”
French proposal for higher eco taxes on flying and Greenpeace legal threat over KLM bailout angers industry
Mon 21 Sept 2020 – Proposals put forward by the French citizens climate assembly for higher passenger taxes and other measures to reduce aviation emissions have been heavily criticised by industry body IATA, which said such a move would lead to heavy losses in jobs and GDP. The eco-taxes suggested could range from €30 ($35) for an economy class flight of less than 2,000km up to €400 ($470) for a longer flight in business class. According to the French civil aviation authority (DGAC), annual tax revenue from air passengers could rise nearly ten-fold to reach over €4 billion euros in a business-as-usual scenario if implemented in 2021. The UK’s citizens climate assembly has recommended that frequent fliers and those who fly further should pay more. Meanwhile, Greenpeace Netherlands has filed a lawsuit to force the Dutch government to discontinue its bailout of KLM on the grounds that the climate conditions attached to the agreement do not go far enough.
The Citizens’ Convention for the Climate (CCC) has adopted 149 proposals to reduce France’s greenhouse gas emissions, eight of which affect air transport. They have been put before a consultation meeting organised by the Ministry of Ecological Transition to bring together CCC participants, industry, trade unions, civil servants and NGOs. A bill on the measures decided is due to be presented by the end of the month.
Measures include the phasing out of domestic flights where an alternative train journey of less than four hours is available, an end to the construction of new airports and the extension of existing airports, promotion of the idea of a European ‘eco contribution’, a higher fuel tax on recreational aviation, support for aviation sector R&D and biofuels, and a guarantee that emissions that cannot be eliminated are fully offset by funding carbon sinks. The most controversial proposal is a heavy increase in eco taxes on passengers.
“If these proposals are implemented, it will be the death of several airlines and airports in France, which are already suffering the most violent shock in their history,” said Thomas June, President of the Union of French Airports. “We will see massive closures of air links, with serious consequences for tourism and the economy.”
The DGAC estimates the additional taxes would result in a loss of traffic between 14% and 19% and 120,000 to 150,000 jobs. The outcome for the environment, it says, would be a saving of 3.5 million tonnes of CO2 out of a national total of 441 million tonnes, based on 2019 figures, a reduction of 0.79%, although it points out the gain would be offset by travellers using airports outside France.
“This proposal cannot be taken seriously. It will all but eliminate the 160,000 jobs that the government is trying to create with the €100 billion in its economic re-launch plan,” said Alexandre de Juniac, IATA’s Director General and former CEO of Air France-KLM in a statement. “In this time of crisis we need coherent policies that will save jobs, not policies that will destroy them.
“Aviation is a leader in decarbonising – the first to deliver against global sectoral emissions commitments despite being heavily carbon dependent. If the CCC is really serious about decarbonising aviation, it should provide the sector with support to achieve its green roadmap.”
IATA also warned a unilateral approach to reducing aviation’s emissions could compromise global action.
“If France imposes this debilitating unilateral national tax it could jeopardise CORSIA, an international scheme that will mitigate a billion tonnes of carbon emissions,” said de Juniac. “A net environmental impact of the CCC proposal will be horrendous if doing so gives large emitters or developing nations an excuse not to support CORSIA.”
Greenpeace Netherlands wants the Dutch government to implement an annual reducing cap on emissions for KLM as part of the airline’s Covid-19 bailout package and has given the government until October 1 to respond.
“Though this bailout is supposed to ensure job security, that is exactly what our government does not achieve. Even though KLM is propped up for now, the major polluter is not made future-proof and thousands of jobs are lost. And that is not only bad news for the climate, the environment and public health, but also for KLM’s employees who will not have job security in the long run,” said Dewi Zloch, the environmental group’s climate and energy expert.
“More sustainable aviation will not be accomplished with the slow measures that are currently in place. Electric planes or planes that fly with sustainably sourced fuel, for example, will not be available in time. So the number of flights needs to reduce substantially, starting with revoking short-distance flights under 1,000 kilometres. It is unnecessary to fly multiple planes between Amsterdam and Brussels or Paris every day.”
Ben Smith, CEO of Air France-KLM group said the French CCC proposal did not support emissions reductions and was instead counter-productive as it deprived his airline of finances that would otherwise be invested in environmental projects.
“We are very much against it,” he told a webinar last week organised by trade body Airlines for Europe. “Equally distortive is Greenpeace’s demand to cap CO2 emissions with a linear reduction. This would put the airline sector in the Netherlands on a totally unequal footing compared to their competitors, with serious consequences for jobs and connectivity. It is not very helpful if we want to get through this crisis.”
A Reuters report suggests the CCC’s tax proposals may be put on hold, with French finance minister Bruno Le Maire saying it would be “completely grotesque” to hit the aviation sector with new taxes at this time. The report says the environment minister has yet to decide whether to support the measures and suggests even if the taxes were put before the French parliament, they would likely be defeated.
Members of the UK’s first Climate Assembly, formed by six Parliamentary cross-party select committees to consider policies to set the country on the path towards the national net zero by 2050 target, identified 14 areas relating to air travel they would like government and Parliament to look at. Most wanted a solution to aviation emissions that allowed people to continue to fly but rejected a future in which passenger numbers grew by the forecasted 65% between 2018 and 2015, believing the growth should be limited to 25-50%, depending on how quickly technology progresses.
A large proportion (80%) ‘strongly agreed’ or ‘agreed’ that taxes should increase as people fly more often and as they fly further, and the scrapping of incentives that encouraged people to fly more was also favoured. Significant support was also found for investment by airlines in greenhouse gas removals as a way of reaching net zero, and the need for investment in new aviation technologies such as electric aircraft and synthetic fuels.
ICCT report on commercial aircraft fuel burn trends argues for a more stringent ICAO CO2 standard
Thu 17 Sept 2020 – After stagnating from around 1990 to 2005, the average fuel burn of new jet aircraft decreased at a faster pace from the late 2000s and continued during the last decade, finds a new study by the International Council on Clean Transportation (ICCT). This is attributed to the introduction of new, more fuel-efficient narrowbody and widebody aircraft such as Boeing’s 787 and 737 MAX and Airbus’s A350 and A320neo. Depending on the metric used, the average fuel burn reduction was 1.0 to 1.5 per cent per year since 2010. As the only known new aircraft model on the horizon is Boeing’s 777X, the reduction may slow down in the upcoming decade, forecasts the study, but if cost-effective technologies were adopted by the manufacturers, the improvement could be accelerated by up to 2.2% annually through to 2034. ICCT recommends the current ICAO CO2 emissions standard be tightened in order to provide such incentives.
The ICCT study updates a previous analysis published in 2015 covering the fuel burn of new commercial jet aircraft from 1960 to 2014 by taking into account new aircraft types and deliveries from 2015 to 2019, as well as to include dedicated freighters delivered from 1960 to 2019 in order to offer a fuller picture of the commercial jet aircraft market. Fuel burn has been assessed using two indicators: block fuel intensity in grams of fuel per tonne-kilometre and the CO2 metric value (MV) developed by ICAO. The latter, say the study’s authors, Sola Zheng and Dan Rutherford, aims to provide a ‘transport capability neutral’ means of regulating aircraft fuel burn. Over the long run, ICCT’s analysis shows the two indicators are well correlated.
The average block fuel intensity of new aircraft decreased 41% from 1970 to 2019, a compound annual reduction rate of 1.0%. When including the prior decade, during which widebody aircraft like the Boeing 747 family joined the fleet, the rate increases to 1.3%. Some time periods saw more drastic reductions in fuel burn than others, notably in the 1980s when block fuel intensity dropped an average 2.8% each year. That was followed by two decades of more modest improvements at an average rate of less than 1% per year.
The reductions in fuel burn were also compared in the study with ICAO’s aircraft CO2 emissions standard, under which all new aircraft will need to meet fuel burn targets for their specific sizes in order to be sold globally starting in 2028. ICCT’s analysis shows that the average new aircraft delivered in 2016, the year the standard was finalised, already complied with the 2028 requirements. In 2019, the average new aircraft delivered passed the standard by 6%, it says.
“As this research shows, ICAO’s CO2 standard lags the existing efforts of manufacturers by more than 10 years,” say the authors. “This suggests ICAO should review and tighten its CO2 standard as quickly as possible.”
They also recommend individual governments, such as the United States, which is currently undergoing a consultation period on adopting legislation that will follow the standard (see article), should consider implementing a more stringent domestic standard, such as applying it to in-service, rather than just new, aircraft. Countries such as Canada and regions such the European Union have already adopted the ICAO standard but there are precedents, such as on aircraft noise and safety, for States to adopt more stringent requirements.
“Future standards for new aircraft will also be needed,” they add. “Introducing flexibility mechanisms like averaging and banking would allow for more ambitious, cost-effective standards.
“A meaningful CO2 standard could urge the industry to focus available resources on producing and deploying newer, more fuel-efficient aircraft.”
Besides tightening the standard, additional measures could be considered, they recommend, to promote structural efficiency – which they say is not rewarded under the MV metric – in particular with regard to promoting the use of lightweight materials and efficient aircraft design. Differentiated landing fees based on the fuel burn of in-service aircraft are another potential incentive. Regional jets are slightly favoured by the ICAO MV metric, masking their higher fuel burn compared to larger jet aircraft and the authors suggest the requirements could be strengthened in the next round of standard setting.
The authors hope to expand their analysis in future updates to include general aviation aircraft, notably turboprops and business jets, and a reassessment of industry’s progress towards ICAO’s fuel burn technology goals would also be informative, they say.
Members of international airline alliance oneworld commit to net zero carbon emissions by 2050
Tue 15 Sept 2020 – The 13 airline members of the oneworld global alliance have united behind a common aim of achieving carbon neutrality by 2050. Four members – IAG’s British Airways and Iberia, plus Japan Airlines and Qantas – have already committed to the 2050 target, with a fifth, Finnair, aiming to reach it by 2045. The other major alliance members now joining the pledge include American Airlines, Cathay Pacific Airways, Malaysia Airlines, Qatar Airways and member-elect Alaska Airlines. Also committing include Royal Air Maroc, Royal Jordanian, SriLankan Airlines and Russia’s S7 Airlines, whose governments have not yet volunteered to join the international carbon-neutral growth scheme CORSIA. The airlines will develop their own individual approaches to reach the target and collaborate on a number of environmental and sustainability initiatives.
An environmental and sustainability best practices working group co-led by IAG’s Head of Sustainability, Jonathon Counsell, and Qantas Executive Manager Sustainability and Future Planet David Young will coordinate the collaborative effort. Individually, the airlines will employ a range of initiatives and efficiency measures, including investments in sustainable aviation fuels and more fuel-efficient aircraft, reduction of waste and single-use plastics, and through carbon offsetting.
“Alongside our member airlines, we are proud to be the first alliance to commit to net zero emissions by 2050 and play a role in making the industry more sustainable,” commented oneworld CEO Rob Gurney. “We want to thank our member carriers for their support and recognise IAG and Qantas for the leadership they have shown as we committed together to this goal.”
Announcing the goal during last week’s ICAO CO2 Reductions Stocktaking virtual seminar, Gurney said the oneworld governing board had unanimously agreed that environmental sustainability was a crucial priority for the alliance’s members to pursue.
“Why during the Covid-19 pandemic are we are making this commitment now to reduce our emissions? The answer is straightforward – it’s simply the right thing do,” he told participants. “Despite the difficulties we’re all facing, we believe that it’s absolutely crucial that we play our part in addressing climate change. This announcement is a sign of how seriously we’re taking that commitment.”
Commenting on the commitment, Qantas CEO and oneworld Chairman Alan Joyce said it underlined the importance placed by the alliance on becoming a more sustainable industry. “Despite the challenges we are all facing amidst the pandemic, we have not lost sight of the responsibility we have to reduce emissions in the long term and our announcement reflects the strength of that commitment.”
Added IAG Chief Executive Luis Gallego: “Despite the current crisis, it’s absolutely critical that the industry plays its full part in addressing climate change. We were the first airline group worldwide to commit to achieving net zero CO2 emissions by 2050 and we’ll continue to lead the industry’s efforts to reduce its carbon footprint.”
American Airlines CEO Doug Parker said his team was “ready and willing” to reach the goal. “We’re proud to join with our oneworld partners to commit to a more sustainable future for our industry,” he commented. “Each step we take to reduce our impact on the environment – from improving efficiency to adopting low-carbon fuels – contributes to our vision of taking care of customers and team members for generations to come.”
It was important for the industry to seek future solutions to solve the climate challenge and to maintain the positive impacts aviation has for society, said Finnair CEO Topi Manner, who said the airline was participating in zero-emission synthetic fuels research.
Japan Airlines President Yuji Akasaka said the industry would play a vital role in promoting a sustainable future, while Malaysia Airlines CEO Captain Izham Ismail said: “We seek to play a greater part in building a legacy for future generations and are enhancing our own airline’s contribution to global sustainability efforts.”
Qatar Airways Group CEO Akbar Al Baker said reducing emissions is modern aviation’s greatest challenge. “The alliance’s commitment to net zero during this uncertain time demonstrates the importance we all place on this duty.”
Pre-crisis, members of oneworld served more than 1,000 airports in over 170 territories and carried almost 540 million passengers a year on a combined fleet of over 3,600 aircraft.
Still to be decided is whether the alliance will require a commitment to the net zero goal as a condition of new membership.
Major new study finds global aviation is responsible for 3.5 per cent of human-induced climate change
Mon 14 Sept 2020 – Although it is established that aviation’s contribution to climate change goes further than just emissions of carbon dioxide from jet engines, there have been considerable uncertainties over the impact of non-CO2 effects from, for example, contrails and contrail cirrus created by engines at high altitude. Attempts have been made to come up with multiplication factors to calculate aviation’s true climate impact but they have not been driven by the science. A major new international study, the first of its kind since 2009, has now calculated aviation is responsible for 3.5% of all human activities that drive climate change. The study is unique in that for the first time the calculations have been made using a new metric – effective radiative forcing (ERF) – that was introduced in 2013 by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Using the metric, the researchers found the impact from contrail cirrus is less than half previously estimated but is still the sector’s largest contributor to global warming.
The study, which is published in the journal Atmospheric Environment, was led by the UK’s Manchester Metropolitan University in collaboration with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and National Center for Atmospheric Research in the US, the Center for International Climate Research (CICERO) in Norway, the German Aerospace Center (DLR) and universities in the UK, US, Italy and China.
“Given the dependence of aviation on burning fossil fuel, its significant CO2 and non-CO2 effects, and the projected fleet growth, it is vital to understand the scale of aviation’s impact on present day climate change, especially in view of the requirements of the Paris Agreement to reach net-zero CO2 emissions by around 2050,” said David Lee, the study’s lead author and Professor of Atmospheric Science at Manchester Metropolitan University and Director of its Centre for Aviation, Transport and Environment (CATE) research group.
“But estimating aviation’s non-CO2 effects on atmospheric chemistry and clouds is a complex challenge for contemporary atmospheric modelling systems. It is difficult to calculate the contributions caused by a range of atmospheric physical processes, including how air moves, chemical transformations, microphysics, radiation and transport.”
Researchers evaluated all of aviation’s contributing factors to climate change, including CO2 and nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions, and the effect of contrails and contrail cirrus, which are clouds of ice crystals created by aircraft jet engines at high altitude. This was analysed alongside water vapour, soot, and aerosol and sulphate aerosol gases found in the exhaust plumes emitted by aircraft engines.
The ERF metric represents the increase or decrease since pre-industrialisation times in the balance between the energy coming from the sun and the energy emitted from the earth, known as the earth-atmosphere radiation budget. The scientists undertook a comprehensive analysis of individual aviation ERFs to provide an overall ERF for global aviation for the first time.
Similar studies were conducted in 1999, 2005 and 2009 but this was the most current and most extensive, with lots of the details in the science having changed and matured, Lee pointed out.
“The new study means that aviation’s impact on climate change can be compared with other sectors such as maritime shipping, ground transportation and energy generation as it has a consistent set of ERF measurements,” he said.
The study found that contrail cirrus formation yields the largest positive (warming) ERF term, followed by CO2 and NOx emissions, with minor contributions from aerosols and water vapour.
Potential operational solutions suggested by the study to reduce aviation’s non-CO2 forcings, such as contrail formation, include re-routing aircraft or optimising flight times to avoid the more positive effects caused at night-time. Technology changes to reduce net NOx have also been proposed in other studies. However, the team notes in their study that re-routing can result in a longer flight path with more fuel burnt, producing more GHG emissions, and changes to combustor technology to reduce NOx emissions can also increase CO2 emissions.
Unlike direct emissions of non-CO2 greenhouse gases from sources such as the agricultural sector, aviation’s non-CO2 effects were not covered by the Kyoto Protocol, the Paris Agreement’s predecessor.
“It is unclear whether future developments of the Paris Agreement or ICAO negotiations to mitigate climate change in general will include short-lived indirect GHGs like nitrogen oxides, contrail cirrus, aerosol-cloud effects or other aviation non-CO2 effects,” said Lee. “Aviation is not mentioned explicitly in the text of the Agreement, which says total global GHG emissions need to be reduced rapidly to achieve a balance between man-made emissions and sinks of GHGs in the second half of this century.”
Co-author David Fahey, Director of the Earth System Research Laboratories at NOAA, said the latest assessment had strengthened the scientific foundation of the role of aviation in the climate system and established a framework for future assessments.
“It will aid decision-makers and the industry in pursuing any future mitigation actions while protecting this important sector from any inaccurate assertions concerning its role in the climate system.”
Speaking at last week’s ICAO CO2 Stocktaking virtual seminar, Lee said aviation (international plus domestic) was responsible for 2.4% of global CO2 emissions in 2018. He noted the percentage would have been higher at 2.8% under previous calculation methods but land-use change emissions are now included in the new global carbon budget methodology, so reducing aviation's previous share.
“However, annual emissions don’t really matter in terms of the long-term impact on climate,” he added. Cumulatively since 1940, the aviation sector had emitted 32.6 billion tonnes of CO2, the study calculated, around half of which had occurred in the last 20 years.
This cumulative impact over time was important to note, he said, because CO2 emissions had a very long lifetime in the atmosphere, a fraction of which can be for millennia. The IPCC had shown a robust approximately linear relationship between increases in cumulative CO2 emissions and global mean surface temperature change, added Lee, a contributor to the UN body’s research work.
Because of the longevity of CO2 emissions, the dramatic fall in air traffic due to Covid-19 would not make a big difference in terms of aviation’s general impact on the climate, he warned.
“As the pandemic changes, aviation traffic is likely to recover to meet projected rates on varying timescales, with continued growth, further increasing CO2 emissions. Therefore, reducing CO2 aviation emissions will remain a continued focus in reducing future man-made climate change, along with aviation’s non-CO2 contribution,” said Lee.
“The problem hasn’t gone away.”