Updated Friday,24November2023 - 11:08

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A getaway to London, a romantic weekend in Venice, travelling to the farthest corners to get to know different cultures... All this – and much more – was made possible by the plane, a means that revolutionized transport more than a century ago and that since then has not stopped evolving and innovating to move quickly, comfortably, safely and, also, with fewer emissions.

Aeronautics is a science that is constantly evolving, which means that it is always facing new challenges. Today, that challenge has to do with the goal of achieving climate neutrality by 2050; A goal for which it has tools and innovations that it is already using today, while continuing to work on finding and developing solutions to improve its sustainability and reduce its emissions.

According to the Waypoint 2050 report, carried out by ATAG (an international coalition that brings together 40 organizations in the sector, from aircraft manufacturers to airlines, airports or industry suppliers), it is estimated that to reach net zero emissions by 2050, increasing the efficiency of aircraft and combining different technologies will be key to have electric, hybrid or hydrogen aircraft, which will represent 22% of the emission reduction.

Other factors to be taken into account will be the improvement of air traffic operation and management, which will account for 10%; an additional 7% will be achieved through emissions offset markets, and, above all, sustainable aviation fuels (SAF), which will be responsible for 61% of the necessary reduction.

Representation of the percentage that each measure will contribute to the reduction of emissions by 2050. | Source: Waypoint 2050 (ATAG).

The relevance of SAF lies in the fact that it is not necessary to modify aircraft technology for its use, so CO2 emissions can be reduced immediately, since these fuels emit up to 80% less carbon dioxide than conventional kerosene.

An economic and technological challenge

If there is one thing that is certain in the future of mobility, it is that the aircraft will be reinforced, according to the sector. It is estimated that not only will its use not decrease, but it will grow by 128% between now and 2050 as a result of globalisation and population growth.

The key will be to find the formula to combine the increase in flights with the necessary evolution towards a low-emission model. To this end, players in the aviation sector are investing a large amount of economic, technological and talent resources. As Teresa Parejo, Iberia's Director of Sustainability, points out, "the decarbonisation of aviation is more complex than that of other means of transport because it is a sector that cannot be electrified and has very rigorous safety certifications". "But that doesn't mean it can't be done, and in fact, we're doing it," he adds optimistically.

Renewable fuels as a solution

The magnitude of the challenge requires the joint effort of the entire sector (engine producers, aircraft producers, airlines, energy companies, public administrations, etc.). The majority consensus among all of them is that SAFs are the best tool to start reducing your carbon footprint right away.

This type of renewable fuel is produced from organic waste such as used cooking oil or agricultural and livestock waste, among others, and has important advantages beyond the reduction of emissions. As Francisco Lucas, senior manager of Sustainable Aviation at Repsol, explains, "they can be used in the combustion engines of current aircraft without any modification and it does not require an investment to create a supply infrastructure different from the one we already have, which is highly leveraged and very strict for safety reasons."

Refueling an aircraft with renewable fuel.

Repsol is going to start up the first plant in the Iberian Peninsula dedicated to the production of advanced biofuels at its industrial complex in Cartagena (Region of Murcia). With an investment of 200 million euros, it will produce 250,000 tonnes per year of renewable fuels, mostly to meet the growing needs of the aviation sector.

In fact, in 2021, Iberia already launched a flight, the one connecting Madrid with Bilbao, with renewable fuels produced by the multi-energy company; the same one he used a few months later on three flights that linked the Spanish capital with Washington, Dallas and New York.

A strategic and pioneering alliance, which is ahead of the timetables set by the European Union. The regulations developed from Brussels stipulate that by 2025 2% of the fuel supplied to aviation at EU airports must be SAF. A percentage that will increase to 6% by 2030; to 34% by 2040 and finally to 70% by 2050.

Spain, faced with a great opportunity

Regarding this timetable, Francisco Lucas is clear that in order to achieve these figures, it will be necessary to "build new plants or transform the current ones, so very important levels of investment will be necessary, which require a reliable regulatory environment and public support when financing the projects".

Because challenge and opportunity go hand in hand, and especially if it is Spain, with a great link with the world of air transport as it is a country in which tourism accounts for more than 12% of GDP.

"The promotion of a powerful SAF industry that covers the needs of aviation could represent a historic opportunity for the Spanish economy," says Teresa Parejo; a statement that corroborates a recent study by PwC commissioned by Iberia and Vueling, which estimates that up to 270,000 jobs could be created between now and 2050.

When the halfway point of this century is reached, it is more than certain that the airplane will continue to connect remote places and allow getaways to those cities that have always wanted to visit. The future lies in changing the way we fly; Because like energy, aeronautics is also transformed.

Made by UE Studio

This text has been developed by UE Studio, creative branded content and content marketing firm of Unidad Editorial, paraREPSOL.