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Renewable Energy As Panacea For Decarbonizing The Aviation Sector

By Yemi Olakitan

The aviation sector contributes significantly to global emissions.

According to reports, aviation in 2022 accounted for 2% of global energy-related CO2 emissions, and approximately 12% of all transport emissions,, having grown faster in recent decades than rail, road or shipping.

To achieve sustainable and climate-friendly aviation, renewable energy can significantly contribute to decarbonization efforts. This can be achieved through alternative modes of transportation and optimizing routes.

Globally, the aviation industry has committed to net-zero flying by 2050, with strategies such as fleet renewal, disruptive propulsion technologies, and carbon offsetting playing a crucial role in this transition.

The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) has also set ambitious targets for international aviation to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050, emphasizing the need for all available options, including battery-electric and hydrogen-powered aircraft.

Continuous improvements in aircraft fuel efficiency (approximately 2% annually) have been achieved through new-generation aircraft and operational enhancements. However, additional measures are necessary for long-term decarbonization.

Biojet fuels derived from biomass offers a promising solution. These sustainable aviation fuels (SAFs) significantly reduce emissions compared to conventional jet fuel. Large-scale production and use of biojet fuels could play a critical role in this regard .

E-fuel which is produced from green hydrogen (made by splitting water molecules using renewable electricity), also called synthetic fuels can also replace fossil jet fuel. However, they may be more expensive.

Hydrogen propulsion technologies (fuel-cell and combustion-powered aircraft) are crucial for mid-to-long-haul flights. Battery-electric propulsion is an option for short-haul flights.

Aviation emissions also include non-CO2 components, such as nitrous oxides (NOx) and water vapour (contrail cirrus clouds). Up to 3.4 GtCO2eq may need to be removed from the atmosphere to compensate for non-CO2 forcing.

The urgent timeline for emission reductions requires swift action. Investments in research, innovation, and sustainable aviation technologies are essential.

A combination of demand reduction, fuel efficiency improvements, and the adoption of low-carbon fuels powered by renewable energy sources will be critical in achieving a sustainable and decarbonized aviation sector.

Kenya, like many other countries, is actively working toward decarbonizing the aviation sector and other countries l, especially African countries can learn from the initiative.

The Kenyan government recently announced that it is enhancing domestic aviation infrastructure by expanding and rehabilitating airstrips in regions like Kakamega, Kitale, Suneka, Migori, Homabay, Bungoma, and Busia. This supports the growth of the domestic aviation industry and boosts tourism in the Western circuit³.

Airlines and aerospace companies worldwide are also committing to science-based targets for emission reduction. These targets align with the Paris Agreement and aim to achieve net-zero emissions. Over 30% of global passenger traffic is represented by airlines committed to SBTi goals.

With this, Kenya is also actively participating in global efforts to make aviation more sustainable and environmentally friendly.

South Africa is also exploring various strategies to decarbonize the aviation sector. One significant step is the investigation into hydrogen fuel as a potential pathway for reducing carbon emissions in air transport.

The merits of hydrogen as an alternative fuel are being intensively studied globally, and South Africa is part of this global effort.

For African aeroplane operators, the long-term goal aligns with global measures towards a Net Zero Objective. This includes continuous improvement, acquiring new technology aircraft, and utilizing SAFs as they become operational.

These initiatives reflect a unified ambition to reduce the aviation industry’s carbon footprint and contribute to the global fight against climate change.


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