Can the use of alternative fuels oil the wheels of airport expansion in the UK?

The UK'S climate czar must examine how biofuels could support airport expansion as part of the UK government's case for a third runway and increased capacity at London Heathrow.

The Committee on Climate Change (CCC) has agreed to carry out the review of UK aviation emissions by the end of the year after transport minister Geoff Hoon pledged that expansion could only take place if aviation's carbon dioxide emissions in 2050 were kept at 2005 levels - 37 million tonnes.

That sector target is set against a legally binding national target of reducing CO2 emissions by 80% by 2050 compared with 2005 - around 150 million tonnes - on which the CCC will also be advising.

 © Rex Features

CCC chairman Lord Adair Turner accepts that for some sectors such as aviation non-carbon reduction routes will be more challenging. "Therefore, we would strongly believe that the optimal path to an 80% cut by 2050 is likely to involve a cut of more than 80% in some sectors - for instance, the electricity generating industry, which could be down 90% by 2050 - whereas other sectors like aviation might have less than an 80% cut," he says.

He adds that the review of UK aviation emissions will embrace a range of issues and include looking at switching from air to high-speed rail, the implications of an increase in traffic at Heathrow, the potential for emissions reductions from technology and by the global development of sustainable aviation biofuels.

The CCC says it will produce plausible scenarios for demand and emissions, against which it will be able to take a view on whether emissions in 2050 should be at or below 2005 levels, draw implications about appropriate paths to 2050, and be able to comment on enabling policy.

The four-part work programme will:

Develop scenarios for UK aviation demand and emissions. This will involve projecting aviation demand and emissions up to 2050 using a range of assumptions about key drivers (for example income growth, carbon prices). As part of this work, it will analyse the scope for switching from domestic flights and from flights between the UK and continental Europe. Its analysis will consider the relative costs (investment, operating, time and carbon) of travel by alternative modes.

Analyse the potential for improvements in carbon efficiency while continuing to use fossil fuel-based aviation kerosene. There is a range of estimates for potential carbon efficiency improvements of the UK fleet. The CCC will review studies in this area.

Assess scope for the use of biofuels and hydrogen in aviation. The CCC's work programme will review technical aspects of biofuel use and will come to a view on technical feasibility. It will also consider economic and wider sustainability aspects.

Consider high-level aspects of a global framework for aviation. The CCC has been asked to consider what a global framework to reduce aviation emissions might look like and will study a global cap and trade scheme for aviation. It will consider potential benefits and challenges of such a scheme in the wider context of a post-Kyoto agreement to reduce global emissions.

Source: Flight International