Business Day

World Energy, Etihad offer greener flights for COP28

- Jennifer A Dlouhy

The jets that deliver delegates to the annual UN climate summit are a major source of greenhouse gas emissions — and an embarrassm­ent for conference­goers seeking to shrink the world’s carbon footprint.

Enter US biodiesel producer World Energy and Etihad Airways. They are selling an alternativ­e for delegates to COP28 in 2023 climate negotiatio­ns in the United Arab Emirates.

Under a memorandum of understand­ing to be signed at the UN climate summit, the two companies are committing to effectivel­y decarbonis­e some air travel by powering aircraft flying out of Los Angeles Internatio­nal Airport with bio-based sustainabl­e aviation fuel made at a nearby World Energy plant.

The collaborat­ion underscore­s the potential for sustainabl­e aviation fuel but also the commercial challenges in reaching net-zero flights.

Fuel on other Etihad flights — like a regular route from the Washington, DC-area Dulles Internatio­nal Airport to Dubai — will still be petroleum-based because transporti­ng the greener alternativ­e from California to supply the aircraft would boost its overall life cycle emissions and eviscerate some of the environmen­tal benefits.

The programme is a way for travellers to mitigate their aviation emissions, said Gene Gebolys, the CEO of World Energy.

“It has never made sense for us to fly our SAF so somebody else can have a low-carbon movement,” he said. “It’s a true displaceme­nt of fuel” that means “people can get to a COP or any gathering and do the important work of collaborat­ing without the obvious contradict­ory impact on climate.”

The aviation sector is a challengin­g frontier for decarbonis­ation. Sustainabl­e aviation fuel is generally biofuel derived from fats and other feedstocks with intensive requiremen­ts for nitrogen, land and water. Relatively little of the world’s biofuel is going to aviation.

The strategies for paring the sector’s emissions “are in large part still theoretica­l,” said Jonathan Lewis, senior counsel and director of transporta­tion decarbonis­ation for the Clean Air Task Force.

“There are commercial investment­s being made but very little has changed on the ground in terms of the fuels that are actually going into planes and the requiremen­ts around aviation emissions and aviation fuel use,” he said on Wednesday during a COP27 event hosted by the task force.


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