Researchers from the Paul Scherrer Institute (PSI) and ETH Zurich have investigated the feasibility of achieving climate-neutral air travel by 2050. Their findings, published in Nature Communications, suggest that solely replacing traditional fuels with sustainable alternatives is not enough; a reduction in air traffic is also necessary.
The European Union and Switzerland share the goal of achieving climate neutrality by 2050. The aviation sector, accounting for 3.5% of global warming, must contribute to this target. However, simply addressing carbon emissions from flights themselves falls short of addressing the entire climate impact. Non-CO2 effects, such as particulate matter and nitrogen oxides, contribute significantly to the greenhouse effect of aviation.
The study emphasizes the importance of considering these non-CO2 effects and reducing air traffic to achieve climate neutrality. Climate-friendly fuels and carbon capture and storage technologies alone cannot meet the target. The researchers propose a yearly reduction of 0.8% in air traffic if conventional fuels are used, or 0.4% if sustainable fuels derived from renewable energy sources are adopted.
Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF), synthetic kerosene produced from CO2 and water, is a promising alternative to traditional fuels. SAF, when produced using renewable energy, can be almost carbon-neutral. However, its production requires more resources and is significantly more expensive than conventional kerosene.
While achieving climate-neutral flying poses challenges, the study highlights the potential to combine reduced air traffic and improved infrastructure to reach the target by 2050. It calls for a comprehensive approach that addresses both CO2 emissions and non-CO2 effects to effectively mitigate the aviation sector’s impact on climate change.