Finance

Rolls-Royce, Shell and Airbus promise to use more sustainable fuel

The CEO of Rolls-Royce has joined management at Shell and Airbus in promising to do more work to reduce the huge carbon impact of flying.

Warren East, chief executive of the aircraft engine maker which is headquartered in Derby, said the sector must move ahead of United Nations targets to avoid becoming an even bigger share of global emissions.

He said currently it contributes up to 3 per cent of all greenhouse gases.

The engineering giant has already carried out ground and flight tests of a potentially 100 per cent sustainable aviation fuel as part of its ambition to help the sectors in which it operates reach net zero carbon by 2050.

Under current UN plans, at least 10 per cent of fuel used in global aviation should be sustainable by 2030.

Sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) takes many forms, but is often produced from farm crops and can be blended into traditional jet fuel.

Rolls-Royce has now announced that by 2023 all its ‘Trent’ engines, used across a range of long-haul aircraft, will be 100 per cent SAF compatible.

It said that would mean that within two years Rolls-Royce will have shown that net zero carbon operation is possible with about 40 per cent of the world’s long-haul aircraft engines.

Airbus aircraft, meanwhile, are currently certified to operate on up to a 50 per cent blend of SAF mixed with kerosene, and Airbus wants to make that 100 per cent unblended SAF by the end of this decade.

And by 2025, Shell has committed to be producing 2 million tonnes of SAF per year – more than 10 times the total amount of SAF produced globally today.

By the end of the decade, Shell wants at least 10 per cent of its global aviation fuel sales to be SAF, and is building one of Europe’s biggest biofuels plants in the Netherlands, with production due to start in 2024.

However, it is still a small portion of the approximately 290 million tonnes that the aviation sector used in 2019.

Sustainable fuel makes up only around 0.05 per cent of total jet fuel, according to EU statistics.

Rolls-Royce chief executive Warren East

Warren East said: “Flying generates between 2 per cent and 3 per cent of global emissions but, as easier-to-abate sectors decarbonise, that proportion will increase, so shortening aviation’s journey to net zero with action in the opening phase of this “Decisive Decade” would be a huge win for the world.

“However, we will only create the focus and momentum required to achieve this if we ratchet our collective ambition beyond the current target of achieving 10 per cent SAF usage by 2030.”

While engine and plane makers might be ensuring their aircraft are ready for sustainable fuels, it is still airlines that have to pay for it.

The asking price for sustainable fuel is estimated to be around eight times higher than traditional fuels.

“The aviation sector is moving towards net zero, but we need to accelerate,” said Shell’s president of global aviation, Anna Mascolo.

Airbus chief technical officer Sabine Klauke said: “There are multiple solutions to catalyse the global transition to decarbonised aviation, be it developing and maturing new technology pathways, seeking improvements in operations and infrastructure, and committing to an industry-wide scale-up in the uptake and production of sustainable aviation fuels.”

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