Charting a sustainable course to recovery: A conversation with Anna Mascolo
Recently, our Flightpath host, Joel Makower, sat down with Anna Mascolo, President of Global Aviation at Shell Aviation, to discuss how the industry’s course to recovery must also track toward a more sustainable future.
This excerpt from their Q&A examines the role of sustainable aviation fuels and why the industry must work together to reach net-zero emissions by 2050. Keep reading for a first-hand account of their informative sit-down. Please note this transcript has been edited for length and clarity.
Joel Makower: Anna, the industry is suffering right now and mapping out its route to recovery, why should we be talking about sustainability now?
Anna Mascolo: It's undoubtedly true that aviation is going through one of the biggest crises of the industry. And it is true that in the short-term, the priority for the industry remains going back to flying again and in a safe manner. At Shell Aviation, we have been focusing with the industry to make sure we are ready when our customers need us, and we can go back and fly again over time. At the same time, what it is also becoming very clear, is that society, individuals, and companies feel an obligation to make sure that we also look at long-term targets and ambitions. Studies are saying that individuals and society feel a much bigger obligation to act on sustainability. And there is a real need to be able to balance short-term recovery from COVID, but also coming back from this recovery by building a more sustainable future. Funny enough, it actually feels like even for aviation, a sector that has been so much taken back by this crisis, that we are ready to accelerate the sustainability transition.
We need to be able to reduce emissions. And at the same time, continue to provide energy, continue to respond to growth, but do that in a sensible way. And companies are starting to feel that they have a bigger purpose or maybe a slightly different purpose, where economic growth and CO2 emissions come together in one place.
Joel Makower: One key part of the aviation sustainability toolkit are sustainable aviation fuels (SAF). What are the conversations you're having in the industry about what it will take to bring those fuels to market in a way that's cost competitive with traditional fuels?
Anna Mascolo: Indeed, sustainable aviation fuels are one of the tools we can use to reduce emissions for the aviation industry. The other two available to the industry are operational efficiencies. The other one is actually the use of offsetting mechanism, good carbon offsetting mechanisms. But both of these measures, operational efficiencies and carbon offsetting schemes, they cannot come at the expense of what we call “reduce” measures. I think there are a few hurdles to pass. There are three components that need to be really developed. There is a feedstock component. How are you going to make the product? There is a component around understanding the technology you have in place. But also, once you have all of this, how are you going to serve your customers?
The process of producing biofuels, the technology is not that simple. When you're trying to bring a very complex feed into molecules that produce high energy, the process is at times known. And that's where the technology piece comes in. There are some types of feedstocks where the first-generation biofuels, where we actually know the process, know the technology. But there are some others like transforming municipal waste into bio-jet [fuel], the technology is still not fully tested. I think that's why a company like Shell comes in, because we can bring our knowledge and our experience of processing feedstocks, but also bring into scale different technologies.
So you can say that biofuels and SAF, they are drop in fuels, they can be mixed. Reality is that where production sits, where airports are, there is a piece of logistics that still need to happen. You need pipelines. And they need to be able to transport SAF. You need blending facilities. You need quality assurance, and that is slightly different from just jet fuels. Again, the role of Shell here is to play along the value chain to make sure that we work with producers, with manufacturers, with logistics providers and with the technology that is required in all of this to provide SAF to our customers.
Obviously, that still doesn't answer the question around the scale and pace. I think this is where the industry needs to move together.
Joel Makower: This is an incredibly complex value chain that requires all of the different parties to come together. Who needs to be at the table who isn't yet part of these conversations?
Anna Mascolo: We need to look at airlines. We need to look at producers. We need to look at logistics providers. We need to look at manufacturers. We need to look at airports. We need to look at government, regulators. Everybody needs to play a role because the challenge is too big to be tackled by one single company on its own. With mandates, fiscal incentives where necessary, that's where governments needs to step in a little bit to help with the pace. And then all parties need to really work together to make this happen.
Joel Makower: In mid-2020, Shell signed a landmark agreement with Amazon to provide sustainable aviation fuel for some of its fleet. Talk a little bit about what it took to do that and the significance of that deal. What has Shell learned from this about producing at scale or partnering with airlines?
Anna Mascolo: I think we are, I can say, quite proud of this deal. We ended up with one of the largest deals that the industry has done so far, but we look to do more, and the industry needs to do more.
In many ways, this is not a company's challenge, but it's an industry challenge. The way Shell sees the sustainability agenda for the aviation sector is really a 30-year journey where we are looking to move towards net-zero emissions. As a company, Shell has committed to that. And most recently we have continued to stress our support to become a net-zero emissions company by 2050, or sooner, in step with society and our customers. And this really means for us, making sure that our own emissions are net zero, so producing and transporting our products, making sure that the mixture of products we sell is more sustainable. And that really means selling more biofuels, more hydrogen, more renewable power, but also working with customers to make sure that we help them with their own roadmap towards net-zero emissions.
When we look at a collaboration like Amazon, we really look at collaboration with at light. We are really helping the sector to go towards net-zero emissions. And we are doing that through the lens of what our customer needs are.
Joel Makower: As you look forward three or four years, what's the story you hope to be able to tell about Shell, sustainable aviation fuels and the market in general?
Anna Mascolo: So we have been here for a hundred years helping the industry move forward in a safe way. Where I want to go one step further, however, is to make sure that we are the catalyst for the change of the next generation. I would like to make sure that we are leading the industry through the change and again, being a catalyst of the change and also making sure that we go a little bit above and beyond what a normal fuel supplier would do and not just supplying fuels, but really making sure we are changing the industry forever and for the future. We are the catalyst for the industry that triggers a journey of 30-years to come where the industry together moves to tackle sustainability.
Joel Makower: Given that it takes the entire system to change, what's the role that a single company like Shell can play in making that happen?
Anna Mascolo: It's not an easy one, and it's one where we will have to maybe step out a little bit of our comfort zone. When we're looking at what we can do in this space, there are so many pieces of the puzzle.
The first piece I would say is to make sure it's clear to the industry – what are the challenges, why certain things are not happening and why certain others are happening. Making sure that we have sketched our own path towards net-zero. And that path looks at first generation biofuels, second generation biofuels for which the technology is still being worked, potentially moving into electrical planes, hydrogen power planes. So, really mixing the fuels over time to a lower carbon intensity fuel. And along the way, we will have to use offsetting because it takes a long time to change the industry. A plane lives normally 30-years. So that's the cycle that the industry moves around. If you are thinking about a future of hydrogen planes, even if you have the technology and you actually have the plane, you need to completely redraft and redraw the infrastructure that goes with it.
So, making sure the industry has a clear roadmap that we can all work towards. Making sure we work with government, with airlines, with producers to bring products at scale in the short-term, we prove points, we advertise those proof points so that others can also take action, and we bring clarity in terms of what would it take to make it happen when it comes to government industry bodies.
I think maybe this is a role that is broader than what Shell Aviation has taken in the past. But I feel that if it is not a company like Shell, who is going to do this? We have a duty to make things change and we have a duty to lead the industry in a collaborative way towards a sustainable path forward.
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