Aviation decarbonisation will be crucial in coming years, says UK Government

Government ministers and aviation chiefs have revealed a gradual two-year plan for aviation decarbonisation, aiming to reach ‘jet zero’ by 2050.

The plans for aviation decarbonisation follow the government’s ambitious plans to decarbonise faster than any other G7 country, grow the economy, and support hundreds of thousands of well-paid, green jobs.

The Jet Zero Council, which is comprised of industry, academic, and government leaders, met today at Farnborough Airport to discuss the plan. Throughout the two-year plan, the leaders committed to continue working to speed up the design, manufacture, and rollout of zero-emission aircraft and vital infrastructure at UK airports.

The plan sets out how the council will help to accelerate the production of sustainable aviation fuels (SAF) by continuing to invest millions of pounds in first-of-a-kind SAF plants, supporting crucial scientific research on a larger scale, and helping to drive down production costs.

Industries must continue to work together to achieve aviation decarbonisation

Farnborough Airport also hosted the Sustainable Skies World Summit today, which gathers experts and leaders from aviation, government, energy, and engineering. UK Transport Secretary Mark Harper delivered the Global Summit’s keynote speech, stressing the importance of this partnership in the international challenge to decarbonise aviation and reach jet zero.

The government has also welcomed the report, ‘Developing a UK SAF Industry’, by Philip New, former CEO of the Energy Systems Catapult and BP Alternative Energy. The independent evaluation – commissioned by the Department for Transport – assesses the conditions necessary to create a thriving UK SAF industry.

Mark Harper explained: “This government is a determined partner to the aviation industry – helping accelerate new technology and fuels, modernise their operations, and work internationally to remove barriers to progress.

“Together, we can set aviation up for success, continue harnessing its huge social and economic benefits, and ensure it remains a core part of the UK’s sustainable economic future.”

Emma Gilthorpe, CEO of the Jet Zero Council, added: It’s fantastic for the Jet Zero Council to be meeting today at Sustainable Skies, maintaining the momentum built by government and industry on our vital journey to aviation decarbonisation.

“The two-year plan published today, building on recent government commitments to secure demand for SAF in the UK, will ensure we continue to accelerate progress and achieve the Jet Zero Council’s objectives of delivering 10% SAF in the UK fuel mix by 2030 and zero transatlantic emission flight within a generation.”

How can the UK advance sustainable SAF production?

The Philip New report sets out several recommendations to help advance SAF production in the UK. The government responded to these recommendations by detailing the extensive work already taking place, highlighting additional action that could lead to aviation decarbonisation and further investment in SAF production.

The UK’s Sustainable Aviation Fuels programme is one of the most comprehensive in the world. The Jet Zero Strategy sets out how we can achieve net zero emissions from UK aviation by 2050, importantly without directly limiting demand for aviation. Moreover, the £165m Advanced Fuel Fund is also kickstarting production, with five projects already chosen to receive funding.

Turning to potential barriers to investment, the government recognises that many investors are looking for longer-term revenue certainty that the SAF mandate will not provide. Therefore, they are committing to work with the aviation industry on the best ways to decarbonise, including options for additional revenue certainty for the UK SAF industry.

Grant Shapps, Secretary of State for Energy Security and Net Zero, commented: “Having launched the Jet Zero Strategy last summer, I am thrilled to now support the launch of today’s new two-year action plan to future-proof the aviation industry and accelerate the delivery of new green jobs.

“Boosting investment in sustainable aviation fuels is at the heart of aviation decarbonisation plans, marking a landmark step in spearheading the technologies that will keep passengers flying guilt-free.”

Hydrogen aircraft for emission-free flying

Developing new low or zero-emission aircraft technology is important to the Jet Zero strategy. The government is co-investing, with industry, in innovative aerospace technology, through the Aerospace Technology Institute (ATI) Programme, which has a £685m R&D budget over the Spending Review period (2022/23 to 2024/25).

Through this programme, the Department for Business and Trade (DBT) has committed to funding the ‘UK Hydrogen Capability Network – Phase 0 Project’. Led by Aerospace Technology Institute (ATI), this 12-month study will work closely with the industry to define the operating model for a group of open-access research and development facilities designed to accelerate the development of liquid hydrogen propulsion aircraft technologies, capabilities, and skills in the UK. It will also explore options for the supply of green liquid hydrogen for aviation decarbonisation.

Aviation decarbonisation
© shutterstock/Scharfsinn

“There is no time to waste in creating a sustainable, decarbonised aviation sector fit for the future,” said Nusrat Ghani, the UK’s Business and Trade Minister.

He continued: “By working in partnership with industry, we are determined to accelerate the development of innovative zero-emission technology and secure the long-term success of our vital UK manufacturing sector and its global exports.”

The study was inspired by the BEIS-funded Fly Zero project, which published its conclusion in March 2022. This study also brought together experts from across the UK to explore the design, technical, and commercial challenges in developing zero-carbon emission commercial aviation by 2030. It concluded that green liquid hydrogen offers the greatest potential to power a new generation of zero-carbon emission aircraft. It also recommended further work to explore collaborative R&D facilities that will help further aviation decarbonisation.

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