The aviation industry in the UAE is a crucial component of the economy, contributing $19.3bn to its GDP and providing employment for over 777,000 individuals, according to Oxford Economics.
However, with the sector accounting for over 2.1 per cent of global carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, the industry's environmental impact cannot be ignored, especially given the UAE’s 2050 net-zero target.
"The UAE is a leader in driving the aviation industry towards net zero,” said Maryam al-Balooshi, environment manager at the General Civil Aviation Authority (GCAA).
“We were one of the first to sign the 2050 net-zero mandate, but we recognise that to increase sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) production, companies must prioritise their investments, customers, and adopt the right technologies."
Sustainable aviation fuel has the potential to contribute up to 65 per cent of the industry's net-zero carbon goals
Al-Balooshi was a key panellist at a recent MEED broadcast titled ‘Collaborating to establish a more sustainable aviation industry’. The panel discussion, held in collaboration with General Electric (GE), focused on how airlines, aircraft manufacturers, airport operators and fuel suppliers can work together to achieve sustainable aviation.
The primary discussion during the panel was on SAF, a cleaner fuel made from renewable waste products such as cooking oil and other raw materials.
According to the International Air Transport Association (Iata), SAF has the potential to contribute up to 65 per cent of the industry's net-zero carbon goals.
However, only 300 million litres of SAF were produced in 2022, a fraction of the estimated 7 million barrels of jet fuel used daily, as refiners hesitate to invest the significant capital required to scale up production capacity in the face of uncertain demand.
“Right now, less than 1 per cent of total aviation fuel is SAF,” said Lourdes Vega, director of the Research & Innovation Centre on CO2 & Hydrogen (RICH) at Khalifa University.
“The target is to reach 1 per cent by 2025 and 10 per cent by 2030, so we are looking at a tenfold increase over the next few years. This is a huge scale-up. But just as we have seen with the roll-out of renewable energy, the costs come down as we achieve economies of scale.”
There is no one single silver bullet to come up with a solution for SAF. Engine manufacturers, airlines, governments, industry – all of them have a role to play
Mohamed al-Ghailani, Boeing
A collaborative approach is needed to address the supply and sourcing issues, with the involvement of all key stakeholders across the value chain, according to Mohamed al-Ghailani, global sustainability policy and partnerships at leading aircraft manufacturer Boeing.
“We have to take a holistic approach,” he said. “There is no one single silver bullet to come up with a solution for SAF. Engine manufacturers, airlines, governments, industry – all of them have a role to play.”
In addition to increasing SAF production and usage, other initiatives such as improving engine efficiency, aircraft aerodynamics, carbon offset policies and enhancing the efficiencies of airport operations and infrastructure, can mitigate aviation's environmental impact.
For example, Nasa, Boeing and GE's partnership to develop an electric aircraft engine demonstrates the industry's ability to work together to find solutions to environmental challenges.
Another panellist, GE customer programme operations leader Paul Vaughan, was optimistic that the industry’s goals can be achieved: “2050 is not far off,” he said. “Improvements in operational efficiency are one of the key pillars where we can make big strides towards decarbonisation and implement new technological solutions.
“Combined with advances in SAF production technologies and additional production capacity, we have the potential to meet our industry's goals."
The MEED broadcast in association with GE highlighted the importance of collaboration, government support, investment prioritisation and technology adoption to reduce carbon emissions in the aviation sector. Despite significant challenges, the potential benefits are huge for a sustainable aviation industry.
With a united effort and working together, stakeholders can achieve net-zero carbon emissions and establish a greener future for us all.
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