“The timeline that's been laid out by the science community is relatively short now because we've had decades of not doing enough collectively as society and so the time we've got left to actually do something is diminishing rapidly,” said David Hone, Chief Climate Adviser for Shell.

“And it's diminishing now to the point at which it's hitting up against the minimum commercial time that you need to get these big processes up and running and so that means that there is no opportunity left for delay. It's as simple as that,” Hone said in a recent interview with Joel Makower, Editor-in-Chief of Greenbiz.com.

The industry has committed to cutting net emissions to half of 2005 levels within 30 years, and the challenge is a big one. While electric cars are already rolling down the world’s roads, electric passenger planes are not expected to be widely deployed for decades. In the meantime, the industry will have to deploy a number of measures and tools, including sustainable aviation fuels (SAF), carbon offsets, and incremental technological and operational efficiencies.

SAF in particular is seen as key for the industry to meet its carbon goals. Yet SAF production was only about 4 million gallons last year – just 0.1% of total aviation fuel production. That could rise to 10% in 2030 and 20% by 2040, according to forecasts by the International Energy Agency.

A Sleeping Giant Stirs

Airlines that take a wait-and-see approach risk being caught up in backlash from consumers and politicians frustrated with perceived inaction, Hone said.

“First of all, there's the simple physics of the climate issue. The climate is starting to change and that's bringing about cost to society and therefore social and political pressures to reduce emissions. That's real and that's happening today,” Hone said. “And it's not just the climate itself, which is already starting to shift, but it's people's recognition that this shift is underway and their desire to want to see changes made to limit that shift.”

“It's the customer that is really going to be one of the driving forces in this process. These customers, today, I think, represent a sleeping giant. They're starting to wake up and recognize that air travel has sustainability issues associated with it.” 

Climate Sustainability is Business Sustainability

Scrutiny is also starting to come from investors and other stakeholders in the business who recognize the risk of not managing emissions.

“Nobody in the long-term will invest in an unsustainable business,” Hone said.

Social attitudes are already shifting, whether it’s the “flight shame” movement that started in Sweden, Blackrock making sustainability one of the fundamentals of businesses it invests in, and a growing chorus of climate-related commitments from companies such as Amazon, Delta Airlines, and Microsoft.

“There are real leading indicators out there that something is happening,” Hone said. “But it didn't exist two or three years ago and it's moving rapidly.”

Hone said the likelihood was growing that the mounting social concerns over climate will spur politicians and governments into actions to curb emissions growth.

“And that could set another trend, a legislative trend that becomes very hard to manage and very difficult to address. It's much better to do this on terms that you can manage yourself, on programs that you can implement yourself, and implement with your partners.”

Sustainable Fuel - A Low-Carbon Solution for Aviation

Description:

Joel Makower interviews David Hone on what it will take to scale sustainable aviation fuel to meet the airline industry’s increasing demand for bioenergy.

Title: Expanding the Role of SAF Transcript

Duration: 5:51 minutes

[Background music plays]

Bright, uplifting music

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The Shell™ pecten logo appears, then fades. A three dimensional model of Earth rotates while white silhouettes of planes fly across the globe. On the right side of the screen, a shot of David Hone talking with no audio.

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Flightpath: Navigating the Route to Sustainable Aviation

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This episode

Expanding the role of SAF

{Joel Makower sits onscreen. Facing him, turned away from the camera, is David Hone. The camera alternates between speakers.}

Joel Makower

I’m Joel Makower executive editor at greebiz.com. We’re talking about what will it take to make aviation environmentally sustainable. I’m talking with David Hone the chief climate change advisor at Shell.

When you look at all of the things that need to happen between now and mid century to grow this market for offsets and for sustainable aviation fuels, what are some of the biggest challenges you see?

David Hone

I think the biggest challenges are around scaling up the solutions that we’ve got. but there’s a very big long-term challenge which is ultimately moving aviation to a different technology set. There’s going to have to be significant investment in refining facilities. There are going to have be new technologies. Today is relatively simple hydro processing technology that’s used to convert used oils, vegetable oils and things into aviation fuels. And that’s a scalable option, but I think as we move forward and we look at a large volumes of aviation fuel, there will probably be new technologies as well. For instance, in the aviation sector 0.1 percent of the fuel today is biofuel. And to move that to 50 percent or even a 100 percent by 2050, means multiple refineries will have to be built. And these are very large world scale refineries. Refineries are typically billions of dollars of investment and many years of planning and implementation in construction and the driving force isn’t really quite there yet. We’re just seeing that driving force awake in both public’s eye and customer’s eyes but also In the regulator’s eyes. It’s ultimately the regulators, I think that will drive this to a sustainable conclusion, because they will demand, because their voters requested of them that the aviation sector be at net zero emissions.

Joel Makower

You mentioned bioenergy, I’m not sure that everybody understands what bioenergy refers to. Can you explain what bioenergy means?

David Hone

Bioenergy is the conversion of living bio material, so that could be crops like sugar cane, corn or it could be trees – anything that you can grow; harvesting that and turning it into an energy product, an energy fuel. Now the point about bioenergy is that when it grows, it absorbs carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, so when the fuel is ultimately burned it returns the same CO2 to the atmosphere so it’s a closed loop, zero emission effect on the atmosphere itself and you’re using the energy that is contained within the bio mass and that is what you’re trying to capture.

Joel Makower

What about things like agricultural waste or municipal solid waste, can they become fuels as well?

David Hone

Waste is another source of biomaterial.  So for instance most of the oil today used for cooking, be it at home or on an industrial scale in a  food processing plant, is derived from vegetable oil so palm oil for instance and others sources like that. The interesting thing is that the scale of food oils is not dissimilar to the scale of aviation fuel. So the total production of food oils today is similar to the total production of jet fuel. It’s a bit lower. So if we could collect even a third of these oils as waste oils or half then you can actually start to think about making significant inroads into the alternative fuel market for aviation. It’s all very well to do this at small scale to test out the processes but once you reach the very large scale that aviation operates on it has to be a commercial proposition. And the only way its going to work commercially is by doing more of it to drive the cost down, so economy of scale, but also potentially by introducing policy measures such as carbon pricing to draw in these fuels and make them compete against fossil fuels.

Joel Makower

So there are billions and billions of dollars of investment needed to make all of this happen.  Who’s going to pay for this?

David Hone

It’s important to look at the history of the aviation business to try and think about this.  This is a business that has grown over the 20th century from nothing to really a very significant scale. And it’s a business that in the process has fostered change. It was PanAm, in collaboration with Boeing, that developed the 707 and the 747. I think it was PanAm that led with some very big orders that encourage Boeing to build the planes and then Panam developed a business proposition for customers to get them onto the planes to pay Boeing to build them. I think we’ve got to imagine that happening in this transition as well.  There’s a little bit of a chicken and egg thing here. So who’s going to step out and make the big order for new fuels?  Or who is going to step out and build facilities that manufacture new fuels and offer them into the market? It was famously said at the time that both the CEO of Boeing and PanAm were taking some very big commercial risks when they ventured into the jet age, and I think the same is going to be true with those who venture into the zero emissions age.

Joel Makower

David Hone is the chief climate change advisor for Shell.  Thank you, David.

David Hone

Thank you very much. 

Ushering in a Low Emissions Age for Aviation

Description:

Joel Makower interviews Chris Webb on the role carbon offsets can play in making aviation sustainable.

Title: Chris Webb Transcript

Duration: 4:59 minutes

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The Shell™ pecten logo appears, then fades. A three dimensional model of Earth rotates while white silhouettes of planes fly across the globe. On the right side of the screen, a shot of Chris Webb talking with no audio.

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Flightpath: Navigating the Route to Sustainable Aviation

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This episode

Harnessing nature to tackle emissions

{Joel Makower sits onscreen. Facing him is Chris Webb. The camera alternates between speakers.}

 

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Joel Makower

Executive Editor

GreenBiz.com

Joel Makower

I'm Joel Makower, executive editor of Greenbiz.com. We're talking about what will it take to make aviation sustainable. Here with Chris Webb, head of Carbon Markets for the Nature Conservancy. So let's talk about aviation. What's the role of carbon offsets in making aviation sustainable?

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Chris Webb

Director of Climate Markets

The Nature Conservancy Europe

Chris Webb

Offsets within aviation have actually been around for a long while now. IATA has had a voluntary scheme that airlines could sign up to for over a decade to enable airlines to offer offsets to their consumers. And over time, we’ve seen more and more airlines actually use offsetting as a tool to help balance the emissions associated with some portion of their flights. That is the realm of sort of voluntary offsetting. There’s also impending the CORSIA scheme. And that scheme requires the sector to a target of net zero growth from 2020. And it’s expected that offsetting, particularly in the near-term which in this sector is probably somewhere between five and fifteen to twenty years that offsetting will be a key tool that the sector will rely on to deliver that net zero growth target.

Joel Makower

Some airline executives are taking a "wait and see" approach when it comes to offsets. They're waiting to see what kind of mandates, regulations or other things come along and also waiting to see what some of the leadership, what their peers are doing before they jump in. What would you like airline executives to know about offsets that they don't seem to quite get?

Chris Webb

Consumers and customers are rapidly demanding more of companies by way of taking action to tackle climate change. And given the aviation sector's footprint right now offsetting could be a really big part in their response to customers. so the first is, I think, customers' requirements and demands of these companies are going to change very quickly. Second, is that because of the upcoming CORSIA scheme, offsetting will be a part of how airlines tackle climate change. Our advice to companies, airlines included, is that you know this is coming. We think that those airlines that will succeed once the CORSIA scheme hits are those that have got in early and understood what it takes to generate high integrity at-scale offset projects and have built the expertise and relationships and networks to do so.

Joel Makower

How do we make sure that the trees that we're planting to offset carbon for aviation, or anything else are going to do what we set them out to do?

Chris Webb

In the last decade or so, we’ve learned a huge amount from trying different projects and different tools to help deal with that risk. And there are a number of things that projects do now to help manage that risk. One of those is at a project level where understanding those risks and building that into the design of a program is much more sophisticated than it was even five or ten years ago. The second is at a standard level. So, when you have a number of projects that all follow the same standard those standards now often use what’s called a buffer mechanism. Essentially, it’s a tool that sets aside a portion of the offsets for events that might result in those trees disappearing for one reason or another – fire, pests, other issues.

Joel Makower

How big of a role could offsets potentially play in neutralizing the environmental and climate impacts of aviation?

Chris Webb

So offsetting has a large role to play, particularly in the near-term. The CORSIA scheme I mentioned earlier has the bulk of those emissions reductions in the next decade or so coming from offsets. But ultimately over time, that will need to diminish. As we get to 2050, there is essentially a very, very small space for offsetting. While in the near-term, we see offsetting providing perhaps the majority of the emissions reductions required in the long-term that will have to go to very close to zero. so we've seen huge growth in the voluntary carbon market and in carbon offsets writ large around the world in recent times. And I think that will continue in the coming future. I think there are a couple of trends that are worth picking out there. One is, we do continue to see nature and nature-based offsets getting more and more important within the offsetting world and I think that will continue. The other is that I think companies will start to see greater expectations around the role that offsetting plays in raising their ambition. They will be held to an even higher bar in the near future than perhaps they were in previous years.

Joel Makower

Chris Webb is head of Carbon Markets for the Nature Conservancy. Thanks so much Chris.

Chris Webb

Thank you Joel.

Watch: Why Carbon Pricing Matters

Carbon pricing policies are designed to change the cost of goods and services, favouring those that result in lower emissions. That is why they work so well. Both the tax and trade-based approach deliver new revenue to the government which can be used to ensure that consumers are not left out of pocket. And with strong political backing, their implementation will be straightforward. This in turn creates opportunities for low carbon fuels, products and services.

Aviation Futures: Perspectives from Climate Change Advisor David Hone

The aviation industry accounts for nearly one billion tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions annually against a global total in excess of 40 billion tonnes, which means it is around 2.5% of total emissions. However it is a high growth sector without obvious alternative energy carriers, implying that as other emissions fall and aviation continues to rise, its fraction of the total increases rapidly. Should global emissions fall by 50% in the same time that aviation doubles, then that fraction becomes ten percent.

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Get more information about Shell Aviation, the future of sustainable flying and how we can help make this happen for your organization. Tell us a little about you and we’ll get in touch.

Watch: Nature’s role in tackling aviation emissions

Airlines are feeling pressure to curb CO2 emissions today. Until sustainable fuel and technology solutions are deployed to help avoid and reduce emissions directly, the industry will also need comprehensive carbon offset programmes if it is to meet its net emissions reduction targets. The Nature Conservancy’s Chris Webb points to airlines’ opportunity to benefit from the most effective carbon sink “technology” available today: nature itself.

Watch: What will it take to scale Sustainable Aviation Fuel?

The COVID-19 pandemic has hit the aviation industry hard. But as airlines chart a path to recovery, part of their return must include reducing the industry’s contribution to climate change. Bryan Sherbacow, Chief Commercial Officer of biofuel producer World Energy, discusses what it will take to help sustainable aviation fuel scale to the point where it will be competitive with conventional jet fuel.