Those who fly or are planning to fly to Europe nowadays will find that there is a heavy tax to pay loosely called environmental fees. European rules forcing all airlines to pay for carbon emissions are within the law, an adviser to Europe’s highest court said on Thursday (October 6), in the latest stage of a bitter battle
The eruption of Iceland’s Eyjafjoell volcano is spewing a substantial amount of CO2 into the atmosphere every day, but the grounding of most airplanes in Europe is offsetting the volcano’s carbon emissions.
Scientists estimate that the volcano is emitting 150,000 to 300,000 tons of CO2 per day, an amount equal to the daily emissions of a small- to medium-sized European country.
But according to estimates from the European Environment Agency and other groups, daily CO2 emissions from the aviation industry in the 27 nations of the European Union are 344,000 to 440,000 tons per day.
As I wrote last week, aviation demand for biofuels is bursting at the seams. The trouble is, there are no easy alternatives. Sustainable, non-food feedstocks like camelina and jatropha are just getting traction and the process of turning algae into fuel is still under development, which leaves few alternatives for the petroleum-dependent aviation industry.
Unlike ground transportation, the key issue for airlines is that they are entirely dependent on liquid fuel, and this — right now — is hurting their bottom line. According to the Air Transport Association (ATA), the industry trade organization for the leading U.S. airlines, fuel expenses have historically ranged from 10 to 15 percent of U.S. passenger airline operating costs, but averaged more than 35 percent in the third quarter of 2008.
Aviation demand for biofuels is bursting at the seams. Hemmed in by emerging certifications, a petroleum-based distribution network, and lack of supply, the industry is stuck on petroleum fuels for now, but not by choice.
Pressure to integrate more biofuels into the supply chain is palpable: oil price increases, oil price volatility, oil scarcity, greenhouse gas emission regulation, and increasingly, corporate social responsibility commitments. The future of the aviation sector is dependent on its ability to pivot away from petroleum-based fuels to alternative sources of energy, and they must do it quickly.
One caveat: while demand may be substantial, no one knows for sure if supply can keep pace, which makes statements from aviation experts at the World Biofuels Markets taking place in Amsterdam this week all that more interesting.
While news from the airline industry isn’t exactly positive these days, there is a one bright spot for the environment: in December 15 major airlines from the U.S., Canada, Germany, and Mexico signed a memoranda of understanding (MOU) with two U.S. producers of alternative aviation fuels .
Several airlines have already flown test flights using biofuels or synthetic fuel, and a January 2009 Department of Energy study found a “significant,” 5-12 percent reduction of greenhouse gases over the life cycle of alternative fuel compared with traditional airline fuel. These domestically produced renewable fuels are not only expected to be more environmentally friendly but also will create more jobs and increase the United States’ overall energy independence.