The Sustainable Aerospace Together Forum, a collaborative initiative led by Boeing and FT Live (Financial Times), recently convened industry stakeholders, policymakers, energy leaders, and financiers in Seattle, Washington. The forum, held on May 17, 2023, provided a critical platform for the aviation sector to engage in a robust discourse on the pressing need for decarbonization and sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) adoption.
Navigating the Decarbonization Imperative
In an era of rapid technological advancement and mounting pressure to achieve net-zero emissions, the aviation industry faces the daunting task of enhancing efficiency while embracing low-emission solutions. The key question revolves around the industry's ability to strike a balance between safety, profitability, and sustainability. A significant portion of the aviation sector's carbon reduction goals hinges on adopting sustainable aviation fuels (SAFs), which have already proven to be a viable alternative.
SAFs are specially formulated fuels derived from sustainable sources, offering a remarkable reduction in carbon emissions during flight. With the potential to slash emissions by up to 80% over their lifecycle, SAFs are at the forefront of the industry's efforts to meet net-zero commitments by 2050. Currently, SAFs can be blended with conventional jet fuel in ratios of up to 50/50, pushing the boundaries of existing fuel specifications. However, a concerted effort involving aviation, finance, energy, and policy sectors is indispensable to reach the ambitious goal of net zero.
Boeing's Commitment to SAF Scaling
Boeing, a major player in the aviation industry, is committed to catalyzing the scaling of SAF. The company is actively investing in airplane efficiency, ensuring compatibility with SAF, and procuring SAF for its own operations. Boeing is also actively engaging with global regulators to advocate for intelligent policies, endorsing stringent sustainability criteria, and collaborating through initiatives like Cascade to expand industry partnerships and policy advocacy, all aiming to increase SAF supply and reduce costs.
Boeing's technical journey toward SAF adoption includes working closely with suppliers to ensure its commercial airplanes will be 100% SAF-compatible by 2030. The company is also actively exploring innovative SAF solutions, such as those derived from waste, biomass, power, and liquid sources. To date, Boeing has already purchased 5.6 million gallons (21.2 million liters) of blended SAF to support its commercial operations.
In support of commercial aviation's path toward net zero carbon emissions, Boeing also released the Boeing Cascade Climate Impact Model for public use during the Sustainable Aerospace Together Forum. Boeing debuted The Boeing Cascade Climate Impact Model (Cascade) at the Farnborough International Airshow in 2022. This web application uses digital technical data pulled from across the world to visualize how introducing various sustainable aviation options would impact global emissions. Cascade examines the full life cycle of alternate energy sources for aviation – from production through distribution and use – and quantifies the ability to cut aviation's carbon emissions. Data modeling also measures airplane fleet renewal, operational efficiency, renewable energy sources, future aircraft and market-based measures as pathways to decarbonization.
"We created Cascade to serve as an industry tool that creates a common framework among aviation, energy, finance, and policy," said Boeing Chief Sustainability Officer Chris Raymond. "By putting data first and sharing this model with the public, we are enabling collaboration, feedback, and alignment across industry, government, and others who work together to achieve a more sustainable aerospace future."
Key findings from Cascade's assessments include:
• The journey to net zero is dependent on the overall energy transition. Whether using sustainable aviation fuel (SAF), hydrogen, or electricity, the energy and emissions associated with the production, distribution, and storage of fuels must be minimized to achieve the most sustainable outcome.
• SAF will be the biggest contributor to reducing carbon emissions because it can be used in commercial airplanes flying today – both new and old. Since many jets flying today will be in service into and even beyond the 2040s, it is imperative to abate their emissions with SAF.
• While electric- and potentially hydrogen-powered aircraft will emerge in future decades, their contribution to emissions reduction will likely be limited through 2050 due to long timeframes for development and deployment and the magnitude of related infrastructure changes for airports and pipelines.
• Renewing fleets with best-in-class, fuel-efficient airplanes will significantly reduce emissions in the coming years.
"Cascade helps airline operators, industry partners, and policymakers see when, where, and how different fuel sources affect their sustainability goals," said Neil Titchener, Cascade Program Leader. "Our industry has really hard questions ahead of us; we're going to have to make difficult choices. Cascade can be the conversation starter for how each decarbonization pathway can help us reach a more sustainable future."
Boeing also introduced the Cascade User Community, a working group that will provide feedback on new features, functionalities, and application programming interfaces. The founding members of the Community are IATA, NASA, the University of Cambridge's Aviation Impact Accelerator, and the MIT Laboratory for Aviation and the Environment.
"The Cascade User Community will ensure the tool and data sources continue to get feedback and evolve for informed and effective discussions towards achieving net zero emissions by 2050," said Raymond.
Policy Mechanisms and Capital Mobilization
Policymakers, energy leaders, and financiers hold pivotal roles in pursuing a sustainable aviation economy. Collaboration, innovation, and investment are essential to effectively address the aviation industry's complex challenges and capital-intensive nature. Identifying opportunities for sustainability enhancements, cost reductions, and operational efficiencies through strategic partnerships and collaboration is essential. Yet, substantial barriers exist on the path to scaling and commercializing alternative aviation fuels, necessitating innovative solutions and digital tools for decision-making and development.
Governments worldwide are beginning to enact policy mechanisms aimed at scaling SAF production. In Europe, a blending mandate with corresponding offtake requirements has been introduced, while the United States is offering incentives such as the Blenders Tax Credit for SAF producers. These measures are attracting the necessary capital to expand production capacities and make SAF more readily available.
Additionally, Boeing ecoDemonstrator team partnered with NASA on emissions testing to gain a deeper understanding of SAF and contrails, further advancing the knowledge base surrounding sustainable aviation solutions.
A Holistic Approach to Net Zero
While SAFs play a pivotal role in decarbonizing commercial aviation, Boeing maintains a comprehensive approach that explores the safety and viability of other renewable energy carriers and technologies for aircraft. With an unwavering commitment to the net-zero goal by 2050, Boeing emphasizes collaboration and innovation as the cornerstones of the industry's path toward a sustainable future.
In conclusion, the Sustainable Aerospace Together Forum, hosted by Boeing and FT Live, underscores the industry's collective resolve to confront the challenges and opportunities presented by sustainable aviation fuel. Through continued collaboration and concerted efforts across multiple sectors, the aviation industry will navigate the complex terrain of decarbonization while ensuring a prosperous and sustainable future.