The end of ‘Jet Zero’? Britain will have to sacrifice 40% of its farmland to biofuel to fulfill the eco-dream of net-zero air travel
Britain will have to use half of its farmland to grow biofuels before eco-friendly air travel can become a reality, scientists say.
Former Transport Secretary Grant Shapps pledged last year that the UK aviation sector will be green by 2050, saying that ‘guilt-free flying is within our reach’.
But a report for the Royal Society calculates that half of all UK farmland should be used to grow crops to convert them into biofuel to replace the 12.3 million tonnes of conventional jet fuel used by UK aviation each year .
Biofuels are considered a green alternative to fossil fuels because the plants used to produce them absorb CO2 as they grow and they can produce fewer emissions. The other main option for green flying is hydrogen, but if you produce enough gas you would use about three times the UK’s total wind and solar energy production.
The report suggests the UK is unlikely to meet its target of making all domestic flights ‘jet zero’ by 2040 – meaning no net greenhouse gas emissions – and all international flights by 2050.
Britain will have to use half of its farmland to grow biofuels before eco-friendly air travel can become a reality, scientists say. (File image)
Former Transport Secretary Grant Shapps (pictured) pledged last year that the UK aviation sector will be green by 2050, saying ‘guilt-free flying is within our reach’
It warns ‘there is no single, clear, sustainable alternative to jet fuel that would allow flying on a scale comparable to current use’.
It was considered unlikely that battery-powered aircraft would be ready for the next 30 years, so they were not considered an option.
Graham Hutchings, a chemistry professor at Cardiff University who led the report, said flying is currently responsible for 8 per cent of the UK’s total greenhouse gas emissions, a figure that is growing.
Professor Hutchings said biofuels, made from vegetable oil, are leading the way in creating ‘green’ aviation because they can be used without major redesign of aircraft, airports and tankers.
He said producing enough biofuel would only work if we stopped growing food on farmland.
He said: ‘Our estimate is that at least 50 per cent of Britain’s farmland should be used.’ Alternative sources such as spent vegetable oil, sewage and household waste could only meet a small fraction of the UK’s jet fuel needs, he added.
Biofuel is currently up to seven times more expensive than conventional jet fuel. At Heathrow, it accounts for just 0.5 percent of fuel used, even though Heathrow is the airport that uses the most biofuel in the world.
When asked whether Mr Shapps’ promise that ‘innocent flying is within our reach’ by 2040, Professor Hutchings said: ‘We are dealing with the scientific options available. Whether it is possible, that is really up to the government.’
A DfT spokesperson said:
‘The UK’s Sustainable Aviation Fuels program is one of the most comprehensive in the world.
Our Jet Zero strategy sets out how we can achieve net zero emissions from UK aviation by 2050, without directly limiting demand for aviation.
‘Sustainable jet fuels and hydrogen are key elements in this and we will ensure that there is no impact on food crops.’