The end of ‘Jet Zero’? Britain will have to sacrifice 40% of its farmland to biofuel to make the eco-dream of net-zero air travel a reality
Britain will have to use half of its farmland to grow biofuels before eco-friendly air travel is a reality, say scientists.
Former transport secretary Grant Shapps pledged last year that the UK’s aviation sector will be green by 2050 and said ‘guilt-free flying is within our reach’.
But a report for the Royal Society calculates half of all British farmland would need to be used to grow crops to convert to biofuel to replace the 12.3million tons of conventional jet fuel used by UK aviation every year.
Biofuels are considered a green alternative to fossil fuels because the plants used to produce them absorb CO2 as they grow and they can produce lower emissions. The other leading option for green flying is hydrogen, but producing enough of the gas would use up around three times the UK’s entire wind and solar power output.
The report suggests it will be unlikely that the UK will reach its goal of getting all domestic flights to be ‘jet zero’ – i.e. producing no net greenhouse gas emissions – by 2040 and all international flights by 2050.
Britain will have to use half of its farmland to grow biofuels before eco-friendly air travel is a reality, say scientists. [File image]
rmer transport secretary Grant Shapps (pictured) pledged last year that the UK’s aviation sector will be green by 2050 and said ‘guilt-free flying is within our reach’
It warns ‘there is no single, clear, sustainable alternative to jet fuel able to support flying on a scale equivalent to present day use’.
Battery powered airliners were deemed unlikely to be ready in the next 30 years, so were not considered an option.
Graham Hutchings, professor of chemistry at Cardiff University who headed the report, said that flying currently accounts for 8 per cent of total UK greenhouse gas emissions, a figure which is growing.
Professor Hutchings said that biofuels, made of vegetable oil, are the frontrunner to create ‘green’ aviation because they could be used without aircraft, airports and tankers having to be significantly redesigned.
He said producing enough biofuel would only work if we stop growing food on swathes of farmland.
He said: ‘Our estimate is that at least 50 per cent of UK agricultural land would need to be used.’ Alternative sources such as used vegetable oil, sewage and household waste would only be able to provide a tiny amount of the UK’s jet fuel requirement, he added.
Biofuel is currently up to seven times as expensive as conventional jet fuel. At Heathrow, it accounts for only 0.5 per cent of fuel used, even though Heathrow is the airport that uses the most biofuel in the world.
Asked whether the promise by Mr Shapps that ‘guilt-free flying is within our reach’ by 2040, Professor Hutchings said: ‘We’re dealing with the science options available. Whether or not it’s possible, that’s really down to the Government.’
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