By Mark Brooks
On June 7, 2021, the City of Pickering’s Planning and Development Committee discussed a staff report responding to the Region’s request for comments on various regional policies (Agenda Item 5.2). One of those policies related to the Pickering airport. I was pleased to be one of four people who made deputations to the Committee. Several days later, I received an email from one of the other presenters, Mike Borie, challenging my comments on Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF). Initially the note was sent to the city council and I was not CC but Mike then sent it to myself directly, so It is appropriate to provide a thoughtful response.
So much for Mark Brooks Council delegation presentation and his claims of aviation using environmentally friendly fuel soon. 2050 seems quite a long period of time from even 2036. Keep dreaming.
My response is presented here:
Thank you for your email and the opportunity to spread the good news on new aviation technology. I will be posting your comment and my response on the Friends of Pickering Airport website (pickeringairport.org) for the broader audience.
The link you forwarded is an excellent description of the challenges aviation and airlines face. It also points to the educational efforts that Airbus and other industry organizations will need to do in conjunction with its technology advances.
Airbus’ posting demonstrates the realities of balancing global climate change with the growing demand for aviation services world-wide.
Currently Airbus 32x family of aircraft is the world’s best selling passenger aircraft, each selling for an average of $100 million. At least 9400 of them are in service and 7200 more are on order. Prior to 2020, Airbus was delivering approximately 600 A320s per year, while receiving orders for 800 more annually. In May 2021, forty new 320s rolled off the assembly line made from parts from all over the world.
Worldwide airlines have purchased aircraft from Airbus, and competitors such as Boeing and Embraer to create a commercial fleet that is the lynch pin of the global economy. Collectively, the aviation industry is not going to stop producing aircraft, nor will airlines dump trillions of dollars in aircraft assets. The industry must and will adapt to net carbon zero goals.
New more efficient aircraft that are less expensive to fuel and operate are on the way, including electric and hybrid electric (including hydrogen powered fuel cell aircraft) that will replace this fleet over the long term.
Aviation is not just about aircraft, but the global infrastructure and supply chain that supports it. This global economy is critical to the development and deployment of new aircraft. Airbus next generation electric and hydrogen powered aircraft is being designed and will be assembled with R&D, technical expertise and components from around the world. Its new aircraft will be competing with next generation designs from dozens of other established and startup aircraft manufacturers.
As pointed out in the link, the existing fleet is expected to be in service for decades to come, and well passed 2050. This is why new net zero carbon aviation fuels are so important.
Sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) is expected to be a big part of Canadas near term eco-friendly aviation push. SAF enables an existing jet powered aircraft, such as the 737 or Airbus 320 to become more carbon neutral. While around the world, the quest for efficiency is pushing the development of new more efficient electric and hydrogen powered future aircraft, SAF can help existing aircraft designs to meet carbon reduction goals today.
SAF is more than just a stop gap measure, it is part of a global industry worth billions of dollars and Canada is in a perfect spot to reap the economic rewards. Canada is part of a global capitalist economy that is rising to the challenge of climate change with investments taking place around the world in new technology and fuel production capability. Unfortunately, misinformation about SAF and its ability to enable existing jet aircraft to become carbon neutral abounds. What is needed is corporate and government support to encourage the use and production of SAF, and proper regulation to foster a competitive market in Canada, and education on its potential.
In March 2021, Air Canada took a big step forward into utilizing SAF to reduce its carbon emissions with a $50 million dollar investment. The first of many that will be needed to meet its goals. Air Canada has committing to a target of 20 per cent GHG net reductions from flights compared to 2019 baseline by 2030. A challenging goal given full recovery is expected by the end of 2023 following by booming growth. Air Canada also committed to a 2050 goal of net zero GHG emissions from all operations globally.
Other airlines are doing the same. Transat airlines took its first tentative steps in June 2020 when it flew its first partially SAF fueled flights (a pair of cargo flights from Hamburg, Germany to Montreal’s Trudeau airport), using a fuel blend that was 10 per cent SAF.
What is needed is more encouragement and understanding of the new fuel technology and its potential. Existing fleets can run on a mixture of SAF and older jet fuel today. With some tweaking this can be moved to 100%. SAF is a key part of the industries strategy to enable existing fleets in Canada to become carbon neutral.
SAF is made from sustainable feedstocks and today can result in as much as an 80 per cent reduction of emissions compared to regular jet fuel. The exact level of reductions differs depending on the input used, production method, and supply chain underpinning its development and distribution. If the feed stock is created and distributed by a 100% carbon neutral supply chain or uses carbon offsets (via the ICAO’s CORSIA program), then it can be 100% carbon neutral.
International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), a United Nations agency headquartered in Montreal, sets out eligibility criteria for what qualifies as SAF and currently approves eight processes for turning feedstock into sustainable fuel. These processes can use inputs including soybean oil and waste from the forestry sector, both of which are easily accessible in Canada. Working with ICAO, the industries effort to reduce international aviation emissions with SAF is beginning to show the way to interim net zero carbon aviation. To date, over 300,000 commercial flights having used a blend of SAF worldwide.
More work needs to be done on the supply chain to make it widely available and competitively priced in Canada. Today, the initial goal is to create a drop-in additive to leverage the existing infrastructure and processes. In time, it will replace Jet fuel completely. For this, we need a supply available on a large commercial scale.
There are big opportunities for Canada’s aviation sector to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions coming out of the pandemic if the government steps in with the right mix of incentives and support for innovation. This does not need to be an immense socialist style industrial-planning and regulation effort in the name of climate, just some incentives to support existing efforts. Worldwide, through organizations such as ICAO, the industry already has its sights set on bolstering the development and supply of sustainable aviation fuel (SAF). With the right incentives to kick off large scale production and reduce its price, SAF will become a competitive option that airlines will naturally turn to over regular fuel.
More on Canadian SAF organizations and producers can be found here:
Education and a nationally focused strategy is needed to bolster sustainable aviation including the development of the new airport infrastructure in Pickering. In the US, this effort is already underway with an Energy and Commerce subcommittee on aviation proposing to incentivize SAF production through a mix of tax credits and investments.
Ideally, we need a strategy for the production SAF in Canada utilizing Canadian feedstock, Canadian supply networks, and Canadian refiners. We do not need to wait for the US, Canada can take a leadership role in SAF development in coordination with the forestry sector to use the waste it currently produces. Any number of incentives could work, including reducing both the federal and provincial excise taxes on jet fuel if it qualifies as SAF.
Airbus is demonstrating due diligence – proving SAF will safely work in the current and growing aircraft fleet. SAF must be readily available, in sufficient quantity at an acceptable price. It’s a challenge but one that can be won.
Civil aviation is responsible for just under three per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions and consumes far less fuel that road transportation.
SAF can enable aviation to reach net carbon zero long before road transportation if the various levels of government are willing to provide the incentives.
Again, thank you Mike for your comment, and many thanks to the Pickering City Mayor and Council who worked long into the night on Monday to listen to and consider the delegation on the urgent need for a new airport on the Pickering Airport Lands.
A recording of the meeting has been posted by the city on YouTube and can be viewed here:
The presentation in support of the airport starts 3 hour 26 minutes into the recording.