Sustainable Fuels Unlikely to Replace Hydrocarbons for Air Travel



By Steve Goreham

Originally published on Master Resource.

Air travel is a miracle of our modern society. In 1620, the pilgrims took 65 days to cross the Atlantic Ocean by sailing ship and two passengers died during that hazardous journey. Today, a single jumbo jet safely transports more than 300 passengers from London to New York in under eight hours. Millions flew to see loved ones this last Christmas. But jet planes burn hydrocarbon fuel, an energy source under attack.

Each day, more than 100,000 commercial flights carry more than 11 million passengers a combined total of 14 billion passenger miles worldwide. More than 99 percent of these flights are powered by aviation fuel from petroleum.

Commercial air travel poses a problem for climate change fighters. There is no viable low-carbon substitute for most of today’s air travel. The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) of the United Nations warns that the aviation industry exhausts two percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. Aircraft CO2 emissions are projected to quadruple by 2050 from 2010 levels.

Government officials have long been concerned about greenhouse gas emissions from airplanes. Germany, Netherlands, and the United Kingdom, levied eco-taxes on air travel and other nations have threatened to do so. Lord Turner, past chairman of the UK Parliament committee on climate change stated, “In absolute terms, we may have to look at restricting the number of flights people take.”

Because of the growing threat of climate change-driven taxes, the International Air Transport Association (IATA), the trade association of the world’s airlines, adopted voluntary goals to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. These goals are to 1) improve fuel efficiency, 2) to cap emissions through “carbon neutral growth,” and 3) to cut carbon dioxide emissions in half by 2050.

Commercial airlines have a long history of improving fuel efficiency, an excellent goal, which reduces the cost of operations. But goals to reduce CO2 emissions are impractical.

Airlines are counting on what they call Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF) to provide most of the CO2 emission reductions. While traditional aircraft fuels are refined from petroleum, sustainable alternative fuels are produced from vegetable oils or biomass, such as soybeans, sugar cane, or algae. SAF is designed to be a “drop-in” fuel, able to be blended up to 50 percent with traditional jet fuel and used in all existing aircraft and airport infrastructure.

The Finnish company Neste is a leading producer of SAF, beginning production in 2011. Neste produces its fuel from recycled cooking oil. But recycled cooking oil is expensive to gather. As a result, Neste fuel is three or four times the price of traditional aviation fuel, reducing airline demand. Neste is lobbying for “regulatory incentives” to force the use of SAF.

If sustainable aviation fuels are adopted, the scale of the capacity required would be huge. According to the ICAO, replacement of traditional aviation fuel from hydrocarbons with SAF would require 170 new large bio refineries to be built every year from 2020 to 2050 at a cost of up to $60 billion per year. Today, far less than one percent of global aviation fuel is a sustainable version.

But it’s not clear that sustainable aviation fuels will significantly reduce CO2 emissions. When traditional aviation fuel combusts, about three tons of carbon dioxide are created from each ton of fuel. When SAF is burned, about three tons of CO2 is also exhausted for each ton of fuel. So how can it be that the use of sustainable fuels reduces emissions?

Sustainable advocates promise carbon savings by assuming that combustion of biomass is carbon neutral. Their logic says that plants grow and absorb CO2 from the atmosphere, which is then released when SAF or other fuels are burned. But since plants grow and absorb CO2 on land not used for biofuels, converting land to biofuels double counts the absorption of CO2 from the atmosphere. SAF emissions savings are only a paperwork mirage.

Sustainable advocates want sustainability for you and me, but not for themselves. Tens of thousands of attendees to the recent climate conference in Katowice, Poland arrived on commercial and private planes from all over the world. Most of these attendees fly to climate conferences every year to collectively warn about CO2 emissions.

At Katowice, former actor Arnold Schwarzenegger, who flew to the conference, stated that he wished he could “be a terminator in real life, and be able to travel back in time and to stop all fossil fuels when they were discovered.” In the past, Schwarzenegger owned as many as four Hummers at one time. As governor of California, he flew on a private jet for three hours each day from the capitol in Sacramento to his home in southern California.

Hydrocarbon fuels will remain essential for modern air travel. Sustainable aviation fuels are expensive, produced in negligible volumes, and provide CO2 savings only on paper. Despite powerful concerns about the need to fight climate change, it is unlikely that sustainable fuels will ever be a major source of aviation fuel.

Steve Goreham is a speaker on the environment, business, and public policy and author of the book Outside the Green Box: Rethinking Sustainable Development.

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Jack Lifton
January 3, 2019 11:07 am

So flying then is to be done only by the right people for noble causes. Right?

Bryan A
Reply to  Jack Lifton
January 3, 2019 12:17 pm

The ultimate solution would seem to be simply banning air travel.
If the annual growth in global CO2 concentration is 2%, and the total output from aviation is also 2%, then banning all air travel would eliminate the percentage of CO2 growth being experienced and CO2 would plateau.

Ban all jets
Ban all jets
Ban all jets

Reply to  Bryan A
January 3, 2019 1:01 pm

Lots of people would resort to taking slower and more carbon-intensive forms of transportation if flight was banned!

Bryan A
Reply to  RockyRoad
January 3, 2019 2:17 pm

Then we’ll have to ban that travel as well…We’ll teach those Condé Nasty travelers

Reply to  Jack Lifton
January 3, 2019 1:25 pm

And the more noble, the more wasteful … i.e. private jets for the eco-elites and politbureau elites.

Reply to  Jack Lifton
January 4, 2019 5:26 am

Greens should only fly on solar-powered airplanes.

Jim G
January 5, 2019 11:41 am

At night.

Reply to  Jack Lifton
January 4, 2019 5:47 am

Environmental harm from green energy schemes includes accelerated draining of the vital Ogalalla Aquifer for corn ethanol production in the USA and clear-cutting of the rainforests in South America and Southeast Asia to grow biofuels. These actions continue to cause huge environmental damage.

Due to grid-connected intermittent wind and solar power, energy costs have sharply increased, vital electrical grids have been destabilized, and Excess Winter Deaths have increased.

Based on the evidence, including the Mann hockey stick and the Climategate emails, global warming and green energy are the greatest scams, in dollar terms, in the history of humanity. Many trillions of dollars of scarce global resources have been squandered on global warming/green energy falsehoods.

A fraction of these wasted trillions could have put safe water and sanitation systems into every village on Earth, and run them forever. About two million kids below the age of five die from contaminated water every year – over sixty million dead kids from bad water alone since the advent of global warming alarmism.

The remaining squandered funds, properly deployed, could have gone a long way to ending malaria and world hunger.

Told you so, years ago.

Regards, Allan

Al Miller
January 3, 2019 11:17 am

I love when Arnold Schwarzenegger speaks out about CO2! It really puts the Hypo in Hypocrite! Most people are aware of his past and present excesses in this area and he is the perfect model for the IPCC- 100% BS 0.00% credibility. Keep it up Arnie, you’re on the skeptic side whether you know it or not!

January 3, 2019 11:21 am

Odd how restricting access by using regulations to increase costs is the bottom line for just about every sustainability proposal. 5% here, 10% there, 15% on that one. Compounded it leads to lower living standards for most people. A sure fire way to create yellow vests. A recipe for polarization.

Arnold was always a weird guy. Just ask his housekeeper

January 3, 2019 11:22 am

Years ago a bio-diesel moron came to lecture us on the virtues of bio-fuels. I had looked into the energy density before his talk so I was prepared. I wasn’t the only one. Seems this lecturer didn’t know you don’t walk into an aerospace engineering company with weak arguments. We are engineers who actually do the math.
The poor sod had no legs to stand on. At roughly 95% the energy density of petroleum diesel fuel, bio fuels would necessarily need to burn more volume (and produce more CO2) than an equivalent amount of petroleum diesel.
“..but, but it’s green CO2…” was all he could muster. He was sent packing with “If CO2 were an issue, Solar radiation doesn’t care what the source is.”

Reply to  Rocketscientist
January 3, 2019 12:24 pm

I once confronted some greenie friends over the merits of burning imported wood chips in the UK’s Drax power station. Given that the CO2 output per MJ is about the same for wood chips and coal, I argued that burning coal was no worse than woodchips.
But the trees would re-grow and absorb the CO2 came the reply.
I contended that we’re still pumping just as much CO2 into the atmosphere NOW, and exactly how long would it take to re-absorb all that CO2, perhaps longer than it would take to get past one of the many climate tipping points that we hear so much about?
Blank looks all round.
I tried again on the sustainability front:
Just how many hectares of forest would it take to keep Drax going ad-infinitum, given a typical tree-farm productivity?
Now compare that with using coal, which leaves us with much more greenie-beloved wilderness and less ‘industrial agriculture’.
Just how long might our coal reserves last at current rates of consumption?
How long is your timescale for measuring ‘sustainability’?
It’s a very good way to get dis-invited to dinner, only topped by suggesting that nuclear power is a good way to generate electricity, when you consider deaths per TWh.
Facts are such fun.

Gary Pearse
Reply to  sonofametman
January 3, 2019 1:37 pm

Yet they want to ban cows. They eat grass that starts regrowing almost immediately – the quickest CO2 turnaround of all.

Tom Malcolm
Reply to  sonofametman
January 4, 2019 2:07 am

I was recently involved in a very similar argument. When pointed out that per Kw of electricity wood produces slightly more CO2 than coal (C4 programme “truth about green energy”). That the UK taxpayer funds Drax at one million pounds per day. It is harvested in the USA and transported across the Altantic by fossil fuelled machines. I was screamed at “are you suggesting we go back to burning coal”.
The point made that Drax consumes an acre of woodland in minutes and it takes between 50-100years to recover the CO2 produced a response that ‘it didn’t need to be like that” and an argument about the accuracy of the time needed to re-grow a hardwood forest.
The sad thing is that logic does not seem to apply to these people.

Reply to  Rocketscientist
January 3, 2019 12:46 pm


Reminds me of a lecture given by a Pakistani representative of shopkeepers in Glasgow in the 1980’s, to a group of 40 or so seasoned cops (including me) on the subject of racism. Not a good start as I’m Chinese by birth, something he clearly didn’t consider, and I suffered considerable religious bigotry as a child. Not nice but kids grow out it.

He ended his lecture abruptly by walking out when faced with a list of examples of his muslim brethren shopkeeper’s contempt for white women, particularly; and amongst many other examples, assaults with knives and hammers when confronted by abusive school children.

Abusive schoolchildren are a fact of life in deprived areas of Glasgow (and wherever you go in the world) and we cops dealt with it minute by minute, usually with a bag of lemon bonbons in our pocket.

His final shot before he walked out was “but they call us Paki’s” whereupon the entire lecture hall erupted almost as one and said “well call them a ‘Brit’ back, it’s an abbreviation!”

I’m a ‘Chink’ by birth, a ‘Scot’ by domicile, a ‘Proddie’ by religion, and a ‘Brit’ by my passport. I’m happy with any of those abbreviations directed at me. I expect the same courtesy when I address others although I avoid abbreviations whenever possible.

It helps lecturers a lot to consider the audience they address before steaming in with hobnailed boots imagining they are lecturing to, rather than engaging with, an audience.

Dr. Bob
Reply to  Rocketscientist
January 3, 2019 1:04 pm

As I am a fuels scientist, you arguments are not totally accurate. Conventional jet fuel has lower energy density than paraffinic synthetic jet fuel, the only alternative jet fuel allowed for blending with conventional jet fuel to make semi-synthetic fuel allowed under ASTM D1655. Actually 100% synthetic jet fuel has additional range capabilities and/or allowed additional total cargo mass as it weighs less than conventional fuel and therefore takes less energy to carry the mass of fuel needed for extended range flights.
We are talking a few percent, but one must be accurate in these matters or not bring up issues that are not correct.
There are also a number of exhaust emissions benefits for aromatic-free synthetic fuels that come into play as well. Look into the literature available on this topic. Lots was done in the 2000 to 2010 time frame that is of interest under DOD/DOE/NASA and other organizations.
On the flip side though, no synthetic fuels plant using biomass can compete with conventional jet fuel on price.

R Shearer
Reply to  Dr. Bob
January 3, 2019 1:24 pm

I was going to say something similar, Dr. Bob.

Also, while esters of fatty acids from plants and animal fat may be amenable for diesel, their freeze points are not low enough in general for jet fuel. (It’s definitely not nice to have a plugged fuel line in flight). Wasn’t there a Chinese flight with engine problems which were blamed on bio-fuel contamination of jet?

Lastly, I would add that sustainable fuels are hydrocarbon, especially those that are hydroprocessed, so “Fossil Fuel” should be inserted between Replace and Hydrocarbons in the title of this article.

Reply to  Dr. Bob
January 3, 2019 1:39 pm

Dr. Bob,
Thanks for the update. I had assumed there would be advances in synthetic fuels, but had not kept abreast of the progress.
A couple of questions: paraffinic fuels are made from what? (petroleum sources or shale?)
All JP’s have additives (for low temps, icing, etc.) What additives will be needed for the new synthetic fuels and do these detract from BTU’s/lb.
If paraffinic fuel is merely further refinement of petroleum, isn’t it merely very expensive petroleum based JP?

R Shearer
Reply to  Rocketscientist
January 3, 2019 3:01 pm

I believe Dr. Bob was referring to fuels made via Fischer Tropsch and hydro-processing systems. In the former, virtually any carbon source is used to produce synthesis gas (CO & H2) via gasification or reforming. The source could be biomass, e.g. wood wastes, bagasse, municipal, solid wastes, landfill gas, etc. The fuels tend to be highly paraffinic and generally have good properties but would require additives in general as you say.

The hydro-processing systems convert fat/tallow and plant oils to hydrocarbons and reject oxygen, unlike in conventional bio-diesel. This also makes very good fuel. Some day we may be flying on Americans fat asses if you know what I mean, i.e. instead of cremation.

Shell has a process that appears to work via pyrolysis and deoxygenation that is different than those above. In all cases, these processes do not make economic sense for the producer without the benefit of subsidies. The CO2 emissions reduction might be negligible in most cases. So for the consumer, these schemes may make no sense at all.

Dr. Bob
Reply to  Rocketscientist
January 3, 2019 4:03 pm

All approved synthetic jet fuels are paraffinic hydrocarbon. The specification, ASTM D7566, required that they be blended with conventional jet fuel in order to maintain seal swell and keep properties within the normal range of variability seen with jet fuel derived from crude sources. Jet fuel is the only commercial fuel that is source controlled. Per D1655, it must be made from crude oil resources. By exception, it can be made from other sources as defined in D7566 or just approved is co-feeding fatty oils in a refinery at up to 5%. The fatty oils are completely deoxygenated by the time they pass through the refining process.
The only additives allowed in jet fuel are antioxidant (20 ppm max), static dissipator additive (5ppm) and corrosion inhibitor (~10 ppm). Nothing else is allowed.
Biomass derived synthetic jet fuels (alternative jet) can be made by hydrotreating fatty oils to remove all oxygenates and isomerizing the paraffins to meet the Freeze Point of -40C. Another method is to gasify biomass such a forest waste or municipal solid waste (see Fulcrum Bioenergy) to syngas (CO + H2). Then polymerize the syngas to paraffinic hydrocarbons and hydroprocess to jet fuel. This is the ultimate jet fuel with no aromatics and high specific energy content of 44 MJ/kg, well above the 42.8 MJ/kg minimum for conventional jet fuel.
I was involved in the certification of this fuel in both military and commercial aircraft, a 10 year process. Jet fuel is the most regulated fuel available, for obvious reasons.

Reply to  Dr. Bob
January 3, 2019 1:50 pm

“…..On the flip side though, no synthetic fuels plant using biomass can compete with conventional jet fuel on price……” and how about on energy to produce it?

D. J. Hawkins
Reply to  markl
January 3, 2019 2:46 pm

The energy to produce it is reflected in the price of the final product. It’s like the paper bag/plastic bag for groceries debate. The winner is whatever is cheapest. That’s the one that uses the least energy.

Reply to  Dr. Bob
January 3, 2019 3:52 pm

How expensive is the synthetic fuel?

I keep explaining to my green friends that going to renewable energy will end up doubling or tripling the cost of electricity over natural gas generation. Not only do you need to buy batteries that can store power for use latter in the day but there is a need to generate synthetic natural gas for long term power storage. The efficiency of converting electricity to synthetic natural gas and then back again is only about 50%. That 50% number does not include capital costs or operation costs for the facility. It would be useful to have a ballpark figure for synthetic aviation fuel.

Leo Smith
Reply to  Dr. Bob
January 3, 2019 10:17 pm

pretty sure that nuclear powered synthetic fuel production would be cheaper than biofuel if you want to recycle your carbon atoms…

January 3, 2019 11:25 am

If Arnold Schwarzenegger had been able to stop fossil fuels, then in all likelihood neither he nor his audience would exist today.

Reply to  richardw
January 3, 2019 11:44 am

Or they would be emulating Conan the Barbarian.

Reply to  Gary
January 3, 2019 12:15 pm

More like Marian the Librarian.

Reply to  Chris4692
January 3, 2019 1:50 pm

Nope. Conan was illiterate. Absent the free time that fossil fuels have afforded us most people would not have the free time for such extravagances as education. Not until the advent of the industrial revolution was education for the masses even considered. The serfs had to work from sunrise to sunset just to feed themselves.
Wasn’t there a post on this site regarding the labor costs for 1 hour of artificial light throughout the centuries?

Paul Penrose
Reply to  richardw
January 3, 2019 2:17 pm

Right you are. And not only that, but without fossil fuels, the technological society necessary to build a time machine would never have arisen; thus setting up the classical science fiction time travel causality loop.

January 3, 2019 11:25 am

And…for the military. Electric tanks that poop out in the middle of the battle. Electric bombers that run out of juice short of the target. Fighter planes that have to land and wait a while to recharge the batteries. Submarines …. ah, well…nuke driven. On land, no go. Progs hate them.
Btw: We prosecute a poor guy who runs over a protected frog on his land, but avert our eyes from the carnage around the big windmills.

Bryan A
Reply to  JimB
January 3, 2019 2:27 pm

Does make for a far shorter War that way

Another Paul
Reply to  Bryan A
January 4, 2019 4:23 am

“Does make for a far shorter War that way” Unless both sides agree to the change.

Reply to  Bryan A
January 5, 2019 8:43 am

Ever heard of the 100 year war? Horses bows and arrows….

J Mac
January 3, 2019 11:26 am

RE: “According to the ICAO, replacement of traditional aviation fuel from hydrocarbons with SAF would require 170 new large bio refineries to be built every year from 2020 to 2050 at a cost of up to $60 billion per year.”

Pie in the sky fiction, given the obdurate obstructions laid in the path of much needed pipelines in both Canada and the USA! And that’s setting aside the ridiculous fantasy of ‘low CO2’ jet fuel and the utter fraud of Catastrophic Anthropogenic Global Warming/Climate Change that is the shifting sands foundation of this house of cards!

January 3, 2019 11:44 am

“Unlikely”? Please. Any 8th grader with a brain, and not yet brainwashed by alarmists, could examine the facts and select a better adjective than that.

Brian RL Catt CEng, CPHys
January 3, 2019 12:06 pm

I know this is terminology but the reality is that making synthetic sustainable recyclable hydrocarbon fuel is being done now, albeit expensively and in pilot. It’s even a goof use for off-peak surplus nuclear energy when we depend on it for most of our energy supply , the fossil alternative is no longer cheap and nuclear may even be cheaper in mass deployment. This effort uses today’s prices and costs,

David MacKay helped me do this back of the envelope calculation a few years ago and say, “Hmmmm, yes we can”. Just synthesise recyclable hydrocarbon fuel from atmospheric CO2 and water vapour using nuclear power to supply the molecular binding energy of the reaction.

It is rather inefficient but needed for jet flight and military (who are standardised on diesel BTW) and is sustainable for the life of the human race on Earth, as is its nuclear energy supply. The quick answer is it came out at 7 times petrol cost sans taxes. The actual comparison was the energy supply cost comparison between cars charged by nuclear generated electrical energy and fuelled by synthetic petrol. The electric car had a 5:1 cost advantage. I predict a return to car trains like the Euro shuttle with charging points to replace motorways, BTW. L O N G after I am gone. So much oil and gas left in the ground still.

Burning recycled fat is as daft as burning wood chips as a substitute for coal, given the exhaust is scrubbed. Just anther subsidy scam looking for a lawmaker. The last one in the UK was Chris Huhne who promoted the burning of wood chips at DRAX for a 100% subsidy emitting more CO2 than the coal it used to burn for the wood chip company he emerged from jail to run. Wattsupwith that?

And eventually the world must realise CO2 has no significant effect on climate change, as the natural data and proven science supports now, but the models deny to support the actual science fact of the sustainable/renewable fiscal scam.

Hope that helps. Reality is only constrained by your imagination, and the laws of physics, of course. Making molecules is easy, hydrocarbon combustion is a reversible reaction, replacing the same natural energy that first put them together. The Germans made most of their petrol from coal in WW2. etc.

FOOTNOTE: Why do people making these statements not do the basic physics checks? Do the research and the arithmetic before writing beliefs as facts? I’m not very bight but this is lower level than high school physics and chemistry, in the UK anyway. Even Bill Nye might be able to figure this out, in a moment of lucidity between confinements. Sceptical comment related to facts and physical laws on the attached paper welcome. Even from chemists.

michael hart
Reply to  Brian RL Catt CEng, CPHys
January 3, 2019 3:24 pm

Without going into numerical details, I broadly agree except on one point.

Our total current (and future) energy needs will probably make direct extraction of CO2 from the atmosphere impracticable. I am not talking about the energetic costs of reducing CO2 back to hydrocarbons, but rather the kinetics. The CO2 in bulk atmosphere is going to remain so low that we will always have to be shifting an awful awful lot of nitrogen and oxygen through any industrial plant in order to extract the small amount of CO2 present. Trees do it more efficiently because they do it more slowly, and over a vast area which an industrial plant cannot realistically achieve. It would probably be easier to extract the CO2 thermally from sea water.

(In the same vein, it is quite possible to extract gold from the incredibly dilute concentration in seawater, and people have done so. But despite the wide availability and pleasantly liquid solution state of gold in seawater, it is still more economical to extract gold from merely very dilute concentration in solid rock which first has to be pulverized and digested with various added chemicals.)

Leo Smith
Reply to  Brian RL Catt CEng, CPHys
January 3, 2019 10:23 pm

yep. David was a smart guy. RIP.
Came to similar conclusions. Nuclear powered synfuel most cost effective for portable source when batteries wont work.

January 3, 2019 12:11 pm

I would suggest making special low-energy density SAF fuel and making the California congressional delegation use it in their jet fleet along with certain jet set, virtue signalers in Hollywood.

January 3, 2019 12:24 pm

I wonder how many acres of good arable land it would take to sustainably fuel a flight from London to Sydney. I suspect that by time it took to grow the crop and process it you could have sailed there on the wind alone.

Thomas Homer
Reply to  Alasdair
January 3, 2019 12:38 pm

Alasdair – “I suspect that by time it took to grow the crop and process it you could have sailed there on the wind alone.”

We could decrease the amount of time necessary to ‘grow the crop’ by increasing atmospheric CO2. Then the flight might make it a day or two before the sailing vessel.

Bring back Zeppelins?

Bryan A
Reply to  Thomas Homer
January 3, 2019 2:34 pm

Zeppelins could be run on Nuclear Energy and Electric Turbine Motors

Reply to  Alasdair
January 3, 2019 2:00 pm

Humorous yet runs afoul poor logic.
Based upon your thinking we would have to wait millions of years for petroleum if we must wait for future fuel sources to become available and not use today’s abundance.

John Lyon
January 3, 2019 12:26 pm

The move to biofuels has caused logistical problems for service stations because biofuels tend to want to grow something, therefore occasionally you see reports in the press about cars breaking down linked to drawing fuel from a specific station. Surely the same problem will pertain to bio aviation fuel, a thought I find to be more than a little bit scary.

January 3, 2019 12:39 pm

Recycling CO₂ in U.S. Navy with SMR (Small Modular Reactors) to make Jet Fuel- Don Larson

January 3, 2019 12:40 pm

Bio-diesels are a joke. How many studies does it take for people to realize that it is not environmentally friendly. Greens are generally phobic of oil and will replace it regardless if the alternatives are bad. Part of the reason I do not take environmentists seriously is that they are pro-natural and anti-chemical regardless of anything.

January 3, 2019 12:43 pm

Bryan A
January 3, 2019 12:43 pm

According to this site, the US used 20B gal of Avgas (in 2016)
to replace that with Biofuels would require
Traditional biofuel 333,333,333 acres
Corn to biofuel 66,670,000 acres
Sugar to biofuel 28,571,000 acres
Algae/oil to biofuel 4,000,000 acres
This is just to replace US consumption at the 2016 rate so potentially we are talking billions of acres today or roughly an area equal to the entire Amazon Rain Forest would need to be converted to biofuel production today.
the USA is only responsible for around 1/4 of all global flight origination

R Shearer
Reply to  Bryan A
January 3, 2019 1:26 pm

It’s sick that rain forests are being destroyed in the name of environmentalism.

Russ R.
January 3, 2019 12:47 pm

This all boils down to promoting bad ideas ahead of good ideas, because the bad ideas have a constituency that favors them.
And my response to this rational advocacy is “use it yourself”, and if you like it show me why I should do the same.
Until the climate worsens (it hasn’t), feel free to “put your money where your mouth is” and enjoy the ride you recommend for the rest of us.
But don’t try to force me to do what you want me to, by using scare tactics with no evidence of current or future benefits.
That is when the advocate looks for an easier mark.

Reply to  Russ R.
January 5, 2019 4:53 pm

It always amazes me that if the biofuels manufacture was so cheap and productive that the output product could be used as energy input to fuel the manufacturing process, yet none can make that claim. If I was Dictator of the World I would demand an analysis of the actual energy out/energy in, and if the sum is greater than unity Ok, otherwise it is just rent seeking, independent of any argument that “It will get better as with more research”, etc.

January 3, 2019 12:54 pm

Liquid biofuels universally have higher land and water footprints, higher habitat & biodiversity impacts, and much lower EROI than fossil fuels. They all also require copious amounts of fossil fuel energy and feedstock to cultivate and harvest. A gallon of USA corn ethanol is 80% fossil fuel energy. That energy would yield a much higher return in new energy if invested in gathering more petroleum or gas or coal, than in cultivating more corn ethanol. And biofuels depend on finite and imported resources including ammonia, phosphate, potassium. Biofuels are higher in particulate emissions and ethanol is higher in smog-producing volatile organics and ozone, requiring a special EPA pollution waiver for Reid vapor pressure. Replacing USA gasoline with corn ethanol would require 711 million acres of intensively-cultivated corn–3 times the total amount of farm land annual cultivated today. Replacing gasoline with soy biodiesel would require 4 times more land than that, and the water inputs are 100-1,200 times higher for biofuels than for refined petroleum. Which of these options is green, clean, and sustainable?

Bruce Cobb
January 3, 2019 12:55 pm

“Commercial airlines have a long history of improving fuel efficiency, an excellent goal, which reduces the cost of operations.”
I would argue that this is backwards. The goal should be reducing the cost of operations. Improving fuel efficiency does not necessarily equate with reducing overall costs. It may in fact simply result in cost-shifting, and wind up costing more.

Reid Smith
Reply to  Bruce Cobb
January 3, 2019 3:39 pm

You make zero sense. Airlines queue to buy more fuel efficient aircraft for the simple reason that they are reducing operating costs over the long run. Amortizing a new airplane will over it’s lifetime result in lower costs. Else why would Airbus and Boeing be selling A32xneo and Boeing next gen 737.

Bruce Cobb
Reply to  Reid Smith
January 3, 2019 7:53 pm

If the reason they queue for those more efficient aircraft is that they do in fact reduce operating cost, then that is precisely my point. Fuel efficiency is not the goal, reducing operating costs is.

James Francisco
Reply to  Bruce Cobb
January 5, 2019 8:29 am

Right Bruce. If the fuel efficiency savings are not worth the extra cost then they won’t buy them unless they are forced to.

Walter Sobchak
January 3, 2019 1:17 pm

What you have to love about Britain is that somethings never change. For instance in 1835 The Duke of Wellington said: “[Railroads will] only encourage the common people to move about needlessly.”

184 years later: “Lord Turner, past chairman of the UK Parliament committee on climate change stated, ‘In absolute terms, we may have to look at restricting the number of flights people take’.”

Got to love it. Rule Britannia!

Global Cooling
January 3, 2019 1:18 pm

Organic fuels (hydrocarbons) are sustainable. The others are not.

January 3, 2019 1:19 pm

The Finnish company Neste is a leading producer of SAF, beginning production in 2011. Neste produces its fuel from recycled cooking oil. But recycled cooking oil is expensive to gather. As a result, Neste fuel is three or four times the price of traditional aviation fuel, reducing airline demand. Neste is lobbying for “regulatory incentives” to force the use of SAF.

Typical mentality of these people. Instead of working to make a product people can afford to buy or want to buy, they want the government to make buying their product mandatory. They do not understand economics. Such actions will increase the cost of flights, which will leave the airliners one of two choices: raise prices significantly or find ways to pack more people in a flight. And likely they will chose the later instead of the former.

Bryan A
Reply to  Wade
January 3, 2019 2:26 pm

Welcome to the new Seatless Airliner … SRO AIR.
No Luggage allowed so more weight in passengers can be accommodated.
Even the Luggage deck can be converted to Passengers.

January 3, 2019 1:21 pm

Sustainable advocates promise carbon savings by assuming that combustion of biomass is carbon neutral. Their logic says that plants grow and absorb CO2 from the atmosphere, which is then released when SAF or other fuels are burned.

Who knew that plants could distinguish between CO2 from fossil fuels and ones from other sources. They are even more magical than I imagined!

January 3, 2019 1:21 pm

“Neste is lobbying for “regulatory incentives” to force the use of SAF.”

If we don’t get our head’s out….this is the future

January 3, 2019 1:33 pm

We had a taxpayer funded bio-fuel program in Tennessee. Some of our farmers have lots of land that will not sustain food crops but will support grasses. They were paid to grow switch grass as a feeder for a taxpayer funded research to production scale bio-diesel plant built by Dow Chemical. Many of the same farmers voted to lend money from their agricultural finance coop to a politically connected housing developer.

Dow Chemical opened a bio-diesel plant in another state closing the one here. The developer got into trouble when the housing market crashed and he couldn’t keep up with his payments. The agriculture finance coop was bankrupt and had to be folded into a larger one. The switch grass is bio-degrading in a field somewhere. The developer…not sure what happened to him. Taxpayers were screwed.

January 3, 2019 1:35 pm

PA Announcer circa 2050: “To all passengers. All flights have been cancelled due to low winds.”

Global Cooling
Reply to  Rob_Dawg
January 3, 2019 2:03 pm

Zeppelins are back 🙂

HD Hoese
January 3, 2019 1:44 pm

This will take care of it. More like neuter.

“The previous select committee did not have a mandate to develop a plan for the transformation of our economy to become carbon neutral.”

January 3, 2019 1:50 pm

The Green New Deal will not pass in this Congress. But it will be used by us politically.

Walter Sobchak
Reply to  troe
January 3, 2019 8:24 pm

You mean used against us.

January 3, 2019 1:52 pm

“Air transport” is a pretty broad category.

There are some sectors of air transport in which alternatives to the dominance of jet fuels and gasoline can do well. For shorter “commuter” hauls, manufacturers like Airbus are working on hybrid electro-mechanical powered prop aircraft that actually reduce the mass of hydrocarbon fuels burned. They’re also working on all electric powered aircraft. Hydrogen fuel cell powered transport aircraft are also feasible, again, for the shorter hop commuter routes.

But there does not appear to be any technological solution that is feasible for getting rid of the vast majority of air transport-related jet fuels any time soon, if ever. Ever higher efficiencies are the best means of reducing fuel consumption in most transport aircraft for the foreseeable future.

Reply to  Duane
January 5, 2019 5:06 pm

You would make a fortune if you could figure out how to reduce battery weight as it is discharged. As of now a battery-only aircraft would not be certifiable due to regulations that dictate performance characteristics during various failures. Check out written by an actual authority recognized in the industry as a decision maker to pay attention to.

January 3, 2019 1:57 pm

….or ships, or trains, or heavy industry, or medicines, or plastics, or roadways, or chemicals, or mining, or agriculture, or just about anything in our modern world.

Bryan A
Reply to  markl
January 3, 2019 2:38 pm

We’ll just have to do away with all those nasty
Heavy Industrials
Modernity in general

Gunga Din
January 3, 2019 2:14 pm

The Green Dreamers won’t be happy until the rest of us are reduced to being Hunter-Gatherers.
(Of course, they will still be the collectors of what we hunt and gather.)

January 3, 2019 2:20 pm

We will have to eat an enormous quantity of french fries.

Reply to  Tim
January 4, 2019 8:40 am

We will have to eat an enormous quantity of french fries.

Or deep-frying turkeys.

January 3, 2019 2:32 pm

“All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.”

― Blaise Pascal, Pensées

January 3, 2019 2:43 pm

All of this talk from the Greenies who want to use so called renewables to make jet fuel. But where do they think that oil, the stuff that we drill for, comes from. Its a renewable substance, just that it was created a few million years ago, and at the time it it sucked out billions of tons of that dreadful stuff CO2 from the then atmosphere.

But the Greenies don’t quite see it that way, they are all for their chant, “What do we want, we want it now”.


January 3, 2019 2:50 pm

I saw a story about a solar panel-powered plane that flew around the world. Its wings looked like they were 100 feet long. It was a single seater. Its airspeed was about 80-90 mph. And it looked like it would break apart in a strong downdraft. But its carbon footprint was excellent.

David Dibbell
Reply to  dave
January 3, 2019 4:58 pm

It would be an interesting study to determine the “carbon footprint” per lifetime passenger-mile of the Solar Impulse 2, to which you are undoubtedly referring, including all of the inputs to build the aircraft and to support its record flight. No doubt there was a lot of air travel in support of the mission. I wonder how that figure would compare to a modern long-range jet airliner on a like-for-like basis. The denominator in passengers and miles would be a very large number.

Jim Whelan
Reply to  dave
January 4, 2019 9:40 am

The media touts things like this as showing that solar powered flight is possible. But the technology is all in light-weight construction, not in power. And no amount of light weight construction can make up for the weight of over a hundred passengers, luggage and/or cargo.

Reply to  dave
January 5, 2019 8:51 pm

And the voyage took several months, if I remember correctly, including a lengthy layover to fix some stuff.

Loren Wilson
January 3, 2019 2:56 pm

I interviewed for a position to commercialize bio-kerosene for aviation. I could not believe an oil company was willing to even investigate such a bad idea. Fuel requirements for aviation are extremely tight. A bad batch of gas and your car sputters to a stop. Inconvenient but not life-threatening. A clogged fuel line or filter caused by bio-fuel and the plane is down to one engine. In theory, it can fly with only one, but the engine has to do a lot more work, and consumes a lot more fuel. Since the fuel in the other tank is known to be bad, the plane may run out of fuel before finding a safe place to land, or the pilot may be forced to switch to the contaminated fuel and pray that the plane will get to the next runway. I can’t see any airline paying more for their fuel while significantly increasing the risk of an engine failure. There is no market for this idea.

Alan Watt, Climate Denialist Level 7
January 3, 2019 3:13 pm

I must have missed the announcement that Al Gore and Leo DiCaprio are using biofuel exclusively in their private planes. Inconvenient to be sure since most airports don’t carry biofuel, which means you’d have to transport a supply in to whatever airports Al and Leo wanted to go to. And of course you’d have to make sure that transport was bio-fueled — even more inconvenient.

But a small price to play for saving the planet, so I’m sure that’s what they’re doing; the MSM just failed to report it I guess.

David Dibbell
January 3, 2019 4:41 pm

Here is a thought about jet air travel. At a typical 36,000 feet, one looks down on the developing thunderstorms and up at the strong ones. The professionals in the front seats avoid them. So it concerned me that the celebrated Chesley B. “Sully” Sullenberger, who enjoyed that view for so long, linked to an August, 2018 article in the NY Times entitled “Losing Earth: The Decade We Almost Stopped Climate Change” on Facebook.

Here was my comment to his post:
“Sir, as a pilot you know about convective weather. Did you know that a 1-inch-per-hour rate of rainfall, common in thunderstorms, implies a 16,000 watts-per-square meter rate of heat delivery to high altitudes where heat easily escapes to space? It’s what the atmosphere does in response to heat and humidity near the surface. It behaves as a heat engine. The minor warming effect of CO2, assuming a projected doubling from pre-industrial times, is accepted to be 3.7 watts per square meter. It’s a tiny number in comparison to the localized power of weather to move heat higher. The climate is the composite result of large numbers of powerful events and flows at smaller scale than the numerical climate models can ever hope to simulate with any authority. These alarmist claims make no sense when considering how the atmosphere actually works, with which you are so familiar personally. Please reconsider your support for the alarmist narrative. Let’s see what happens.”

As you might imagine, my comment generated a mix of reactions, but none from the Captain himself.

By the way, January 15th will be the 10th anniversary of the successful ditching of US Airways 1549, from which Captain Sullenberger gained well-deserved acclaim. I hope he will ultimately change his views on the climate issue.

Johann Wundersamer
January 3, 2019 8:27 pm

“At Katowice, former actor Arnold Schwarzenegger, who flew to the conference, stated that he wished he could “be a terminator in real life, and be able to travel back in time and to stop all fossil fuels when they were discovered.” In the past, Schwarzenegger owned as many as four Hummers at one time. As governor of California, he flew on a private jet for three hours each day from the capitol in Sacramento to his home in southern California.”

Former California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger is dealing with his own sustainable problems:

January 3, 2019 8:38 pm

Of course all of the fossil fuelers neglected to comment on the possibility that we can easily make synthetic fossil fuels with nuclear reactors, especially molten salt reactors with their very high operating temperatures. I think nuclear’s biggest problem is the fossil fuel industry which has bashed nuclear from day one.

Johann Wundersamer
Reply to  davidgmillsatty
January 3, 2019 8:57 pm


where is your dreamed of presentable first

“molten salt reactor”.

Reply to  Johann Wundersamer
January 4, 2019 11:20 am

First molten salt reactor, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, 1964 to 1969.

Reply to  Johann Wundersamer
January 4, 2019 4:41 pm

Here is the video put out by Oak Ridge in 1969 describing what they did:

Reply to  davidgmillsatty
January 4, 2019 4:46 pm

Moderators please remove that video it is not mine. It is from another poster.

Reply to  davidgmillsatty
January 4, 2019 5:05 pm

Nevermind. It is the right video now. Thanks.

Johann Wundersamer
January 3, 2019 8:50 pm

Don’t let me be misunderstood:

That’s not “ad hominem” Schwarzenegger

but it’s

“ad argumentum” Schwarzenegger.

Flight Level
January 3, 2019 9:21 pm

Everything that could have been tried has been tried in aviation.

Pilots are subject to tremendous psychological stress to save every pound of fuel.

Whatever that fuel might be. Kerosene, avgas, unicorn urine distillate.

We are already well passed the point where fuel primes over safety and weather.

Airmanship has it’s limits. We are on borrowed time before playing Russian roulette with weather to spare contingency fuel will become the regulatory norm.

At any moment, right now, somewhere, a subdued by fuel saving hysteria crew faces the dilemma to punch thru weather or rely on the compulsory meager contingency (extra fuel at capt. discretion) for a route change or diversion.

Climate steals, weather kills.

In memory of the AF447 souls.

Reply to  Flight Level
January 5, 2019 9:08 am

When working for a well know airline, the company decided to publish a ‘league of shame’ of those Captains who took more than the legal minimum of fuel. Wrong headed move though. The race was on to be at the top of the list. The scheme was quietly dropped.

Weekend Warrior
Reply to  JBW
January 6, 2019 10:24 am

If that was a certain Irish airline with a CEO who loves publicity of any kind, they’re still at it as far as I know. Now it’s a variety of measures including APU runtime. My late mother lived on final approach to a major airport in the UK and their pilots would fly over landing gear up while everybody else put the landing gear down over her home. All done to save drag and the fuel burn that goes with it, no doubt in an attempt to stay off the bottom of the fuel burn table.

Geoffrey Williams
January 4, 2019 2:10 am

Aviation causes only 2% of CO2 world wide, which seems small to me.
Then again lets keep in mind that this 2% is produced by the wealthy minority.
Look around at the overseas holidays many people take and also all those business junkets . .

January 4, 2019 3:28 am

And I was hoping to see elected officials pushing green energy to fly on a solar powered jet, on a partly cloudy day!

January 4, 2019 5:52 am

Carbon Solutions out of Squamish, BC is doing some R&D with a small production plant at some point. They are scrubbing CO2 directly out of the air and using ‘renewable’ electricity to create a synfuel. Some of which would be a Jet B fuel.

It is always disappointing to hear them and others say that they are doing it to get us off fossil fuels. Probably to qualify them for the generous grants they will receive. I think that is the crux of why most of us here are opposed to most of this, because it is directly subsidized usually from fossil fuel use which usually leads to some inefficiencies, if not outright fraud. The obvious catylist for a final rollout of production plants should be an unsubsidized price point that out competes with any fossil fuel sources on a level playing field.

I am certainly not against the R&D but should be funded by the private markets. The one valid argument there is to all of this is at some point the world runs short of affordable fossil fuels. For various reasons, including geopolitical and carbon taxation, that day will inevitably come. Probably with carbon taxation and the inevitable hyperinflation that will accompany this, which also promotes conflict and war.

With nuclear atomic power being the backbone of electricity for centuries to come, we will always have the ability to manufacture long chain carbon molucules for any requirement. We will always be a carbon dependent species, so we should really get over thinking carbon is pollution. But that is part of the scam to usher in the carbon taxes for socialists to permanently get themselves re-elected.

Poor Richard, retrocrank
January 4, 2019 6:45 am

Clearly what is needed is a steam-powered Aereo-Plane. Passengers could form a bucket brigade to pass wood (a renewable) up to the boiler.

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