How airlines are finally cutting their carbon footprint


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The global aviation industry has pledged that by 2050, it will reduce its net carbon emissions to half its 2005 levels. Achieving this will require not only improved engine efficiency and aerodynamics, but also a turn to renewable jet fuel.

The transition has begun, but biofuel makers need more funds and policy support to ramp up production, according to an article in Chemical & Engineering News (C&EN), the weekly newsmagazine of the American Chemical Society.

Melissae Fellet, a special correspondent for C&EN, notes that more than 2,500 commercial flights have already flown on fuels produced from oilseed crops and waste materials, including animal fats and cooking oil. But production levels are still low.

In 2012, the aviation industry used 300 billion liters of jet fuel globally. Meanwhile, over the next three years, United Airlines, the first U.S. airline to use biofuel for regularly scheduled commercial flights, is set to buy just 57 million liters of renewable fuel.

One major bottleneck to a more rapid switch to biofuels is the limited supply. Only two companies worldwide currently produce renewable jet fuel on a commercial scale. But the tide is starting to turn. Three more factories expected to come online in the U.S. in the next two years, and all of the planned factories’ fuels are already sold out.