Biden administration sets goal of replacing all jet fuel with sustainable alternatives by 2050

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Washington

The Biden administration announced a goal Thursday of replacing all jet fuel with sustainable alternatives by 2050, setting forth a plan to dramatically boost production of fuels made from waste or plants to drive down the environmental cost of flying.

The use of what are called sustainable aviation fuels is in its infancy, with a handful of refineries in operation around the world.

But airlines are banking on them as a major part of their efforts to cut emissions and become carbon neutral by the middle of the century.

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In a fact sheet announcing the plan, the White House said speeding adoption of the new fuels and other steps to reduce emissions from flying “will transform the aviation sector, create good-paying jobs, support American agriculture and manufacturing, and help us tackle the climate crisis.”

The federal government’s new goal targets annual production of 3 billion gallons of the fuels by 2030 – a level the White House says would enable a 20 percent cut in carbon emissions from flying.

Production on that scale would represent just over a tenth of the fuel airlines consumed in 2019 but would be a huge leap from the estimated 4.5 million gallons that is estimated to have been produced in the United States last year.

Currently, the alternative fuels have to be combined with conventional jet fuel, and eliminating fuel made from crude oil would require technological breakthroughs to allow engines to run entirely on the alternatives.

As part of the administration’s push, the Departments of Transportation, Energy and Agriculture have agreed to undertake a “Grand Challenge” to help coordinate their efforts to develop the fuels. Major airlines have backed the plan and also announced new initiatives Thursday to make greater use of the fuels and cut their emissions in other ways.

The Biden administration is pushing to dramatically cut emissions from the transportation sector, which is the biggest source of greenhouse gases in the United States.

In August, the president signed an executive order calling for half of new cars and light trucks to be battery powered or plug-in hybrids by 2030, and has proposed fuel economy rules to start driving down emissions in the meantime.

But the prospects of improving fuel efficiency of jets or switching to electric-powered flights are limited, so the aviation industry is banking on alternative fuels to meet its emissions goals.

Sustainable aviation fuel refers to a number of different kinds of jet fuel made from ingredients other than crude oil.

A refinery owned by World Energy in Paramount, Calif., for example, uses waste fat, oil and grease. While the alternative fuels can’t currently replace conventional jet fuel entirely, they can be mixed with it and used with existing engines and refueling systems.

Burning the fuels still produces carbon dioxide. The emissions savings come from either growing sources of carbon – which pulls carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere – or using waste as an ingredient. Determining the benefits requires a complicated analysis known as a life cycle assessment.—Agencies

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