Leaving on a jet plane

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According to PR Newswire there is an “initiative to promote aviation biofuel development in the Pacific Northwest” that “will include an analysis of potential biomass sources that are indigenous to the Pacific Northwest, including algae, agriculturally based oilseeds such as camelina [wildflax], wood byproducts and others.”

Because biomass sources absorb carbon dioxide while growing and can have higher energy content than fossil-based fuel, their increased efficiency and use as aviation biofuel could potentially save millions of tons of aviation greenhouse gas emissions.
Air travel currently generates approximately 2 percent of man-made carbon emissions, and the industry has set aggressive goals to lower its carbon footprint, including the use of aviation biofuel when it becomes available.

According to a recent post on Scientific American, the airline industry conducted a number of test flights in 2008 and 2009:

“[C]ommercial airlines have flown four successful test flights using a variety of biofuel-jet fuel blends. Boeing was involved in all four flights, including a Virgin Atlantic flight using a coconut- and babassu-derived biofuel blend; an Air New Zealand flight using a jatropha-derived biofuel blend; a Continental Airlines flight using a blend of algae- and jatropha-derived biofuel; and a Japan Airlines flight using an algae-, jatropha- and camelina-derived biofuel blend…[And, Air New Zealand reported] that using a 50 percent blend of biofuel with traditional jet A-1 fuel can improve fuel efficiency by more than 1 percent.”

Now using fuel efficiently should be sufficient reason to consider a change. Yet, everything now gets pushed through the funnel of one’s carbon footprint and climate change.

So, natural sources put 210 billion metric tons (98.5 per cent) of carbon dioxide entering the atmosphere comes from natural sources in the world’s carbon cycle, and people add 3.2 billion metric tons (1.5 per cent) to the total (source: John Christy at University of Alabama, Huntsville). And, air travel accounts for 2 percent of human-caused carbon emissions.  So, if we grounded all air travel, instead of 213.2 billion metric tons of CO2 going into the atmosphere (natural + man-made), the atmosphere would receive only 213.136 billion metric tons of CO2 into the atmosphere, the difference is .064 billion metric tons. A 1 percent improvement in fuel efficiency for the total air industry would then mean (if my math is correct) instead of 213.2 billion metric tons of CO2, the total would be  213.19936.

Again, if the fuel is more efficient and less expensive, do it. Otherwise, it appears at first (and second and third) blush to make more sense for us to grow food or fiber, rather than fuel, in the ground.


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