Why a sustainable amount of biofuels would be used as an alternative to jet fuel in 50 years’ time
Assessing the sustainability of biofuels for aviation has been an area of interest for researchers because it is a renewable and more environmentally friendly alternative to jet fossil fuel which is non-renewable and greatly diminishing day by day. Aviation biofuels, which are fuels produced from renewable biological resources like plants (or indirectly from industrial, domestic or agricultural wastes), are seen as a major option that could reduce the climatic impact of aviation and enhance decarbonisation in the coming decades. Despite reports of uncertain issues regarding the use/sustainability of aviation biofuels, there is abundant evidence from research—too many to list—that points to the fact that sky-rocketing developments in aviation biofuels and global conditions of economy/environment would favour the sustainable use of biofuels as an alternative to jet fuel in the next 50 years.
Uncertain issues and prospects regarding biofuels
1. Uncertain Issues
Some reported issues that could hamper the sustainability of aviation biofuels include: energy security, food, rural development, provision of employment, and land rights and human health issues (Ribeiro, 2013; Scovronick, 2014; van Eijck et al., 2014; Raman et al., 2015). Albeit the fact that sustainability has been a much-debated and well-researched topic in the past few years, there is still lack of concrete evidence in reviewed literature to show precise negative impacts (Ribeiro, 2013). In terms of impact, Lee et al. (2010) had stated that aviation causes negative RF (radiative forcing) or cooling by emitting Sulphur and destroying Methane; however, these outcomes have lesser impacts than positive RF or warming, which is due to other types of emissions.
(i) The existing aviation fueling infrastructures (engines and mechanical/electrical systems) do not require large modifications because aviation biofuels are readily compatible with them (Kivits et al., 2010)—meaning that biofuels are a feasible replacement for the jet fossil fuels that are currently being used in large quantities in existing aircraft fleet.
(ii) Aviation biofuels are preferable because they are more environmentally friendly than jet fuels. Among other alternatives like hydrogen cells and solar-powered aircraft, biofuels seem to be the most practical option for current aircraft engines; in fact, studies carried out by Wong (2008) and Deurwaarder (2005) state that biofuels are less polluting and more sustainable in terms of production and consumption. Evidence from other studies suggests that biofuels are a good alternative to conventional kerosene-based jet fuels (Blakey, 2011).
(iii) There is enough land that can be used to cultivate raw materials (biomass) for production of aviation biofuels. Doornbosch & Steenblik (2007) reviewed many studies and are quite realistic in their assumptions: they see potential for expansion of over 80% of more cultivatable land area mainly concentrated in Africa and South & Central America for the cultivation of bio-energy crop production in 2050; in fact, it had even been stated that half of this land could be concentrated in seven countries: Angola, Democratic Republic of Congo, Sudan, Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil and Colombia (Fischer et al., 2006).
(iv) Scientists and researchers are optimistic regarding the sustainability of aviation biofuels; in fact, scientists and NGOs had stated the possibility of improvements in sustainability that could be made with regard to biofuels (McBride et al., 2011).
The author is of the opinion that fossil fuels are continuously depleting and may completely diminish in future; thereafter, mankind (currently dependent on fossil fuel) will be forced to depend on biofuels which are renewable and can be easily cultivated in any country, and used in the aviation industry.
Regarding the issues raised previously, the author believes that researchers will continue to devote their time towards discovering higher-grade and genetically-engineered biofuels that would erase certain/uncertain environmental and economic issues. Enough evidence has shown that history is on the side of positive-thinking researchers, and they will always find ways to control or eradicate any challenges faced by mankind.
Blakey, L.R. (2011). Aviation gas turbine alternative fuels: A review. Proceedings of the Combustion Institute, 2863–2885.
Deurwaarder, E. (2005). Overview and analysis of national reports on the EU biofuel Directive: Prospects and barriers for 2005. ECN 5/1/2005.
Doornbosch R. & Steenblik R. (2007). Biofuels: Is the cure worse than the disease? Paris: OECD.
Fischer, G., Shah, M., van Velthuizen, H. & Nachtergaele, F. (2006). AgroEcological Zones Assessment. RP-06-003, International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis, April, Laxenburg.
Kivits, R., Charles, M.B., & Ryan, N. (2010). A post-carbon aviation future: Airports and the transition to a cleaner aviation sector. Futures 42(3), pp.199-211.
Lee, D.S., Pitari, G., Grewe, V. et al. (2010). Transport impacts on atmosphere and climate: Aviation. Atmospheric Environment 44(37), pp. 4678-4734.
McBride, A.C., Dale, V.H., Baskaran, L.M. et al. (2011). Indicators to support environmental sustainability of bioenergy systems. Ecological Indicators 11(5), pp.1277-1289.
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Wong, H. M. (2008). Life-cycle assessment of Greenhouse Gas emissions from alternative jet fuels. Massachusetts Institute of Technology. U.S.A.