US President Joe Biden’s plan calls for increasing the production of sustainable aviation fuels and the development of new aircraft technology.
President Joe Biden’s administration is targeting one of the more difficult sources of global warming greenhouse gases with a plan that requires the U.S. aviation sector to reach net zero emissions by 2050.
Aviation was more challenging to decarbonize than cars, which could essentially run on batteries, but Biden’s 40-page plan released Tuesday calls for increasing the production of sustainable jet fuels and developing new aircraft technology. It also calls for increasing operational efficiency to reduce the amount of fuel burned during flights.
The proposal is the latest stage of Biden’s climate plans through regulatory action while its legislative agenda continues slowly in Congress. This follows on from his previous efforts to curb methane emissions from oil wells and strive to ensure that half of all cars sold in the US will be able to manage emissions by the end of the decade.
Transport Secretary Pete Buttigieg is scheduled to announce details of the plan during an appearance at the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Glasgow, Scotland, on Tuesday.
“The Climate Action Plan we are announcing today is ambitious, yet achievable, and will help create a sustainable aviation future,” Buttigieg said in a statement. “This plan shows we can combat climate change while growing the economy and creating well-paying American jobs.”
Airlines have been working for years to develop alternative aviation fuels, says Scott Sklar, director of sustainable energy at George Washington University’s Environment & Energy Management Institute.
“Petroleum is their biggest cost and it has very high peaks historically that puts them on the brink of bankruptcy,” Sklar said. “Having household fuel that can either be mixed or replace petroleum at those higher cost peaks therefore makes it more stable over the long term.”
The long lead time to achieve zero emissions highlights the unique challenges of reducing greenhouse gas emissions in the aviation sector. The high cost of developing new, more efficient aircraft coupled with strict safety requirements means that it can take decades to bring about improvements through fleet changes.
NASA and the Federal Aviation Administration are working with industry to accelerate the development of more efficient aircraft and engine technologies that could lead to 30% fuel savings, according to an FAA release. They predicted that the new aircraft could begin entering the U.S. Navy in the 2030s.
There are also efforts to reduce fuel combustion during taxi rides, take-offs and landings, as well as to optimize runways, according to the department.
“The U.S. has been leading in aviation for decades, and we need to continue that leadership by building a sustainable aviation system,” FAA administrator Steve Dickson said in a statement. “Our freedom to fly requires us to take action.”