Boeing has announced plans to begin producing commercial aircraft capable of flying on 100 per cent sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) by the end of the decade.
The US plane manufacturer said the development of planes that can run entirely on SAFs would be critical if the carbon-intensive aviation sector is to meet its climate goal of cutting carbon emissions by 50 per cent by mid-century.
Boeing said it would now work to determine what engineering changes would be required made to ensure that future airplanes have the option of flying exclusively on sustainable fuels, which can be produced from a variety of feedstocks, including plants, agricultural and household waste, and even industrial gases.
As the world's largest aerospace company and the leading provider of commercial airplanes, Boeing's commitment to ensure its fleet is fully biofuel compliant is likely to have a significant ripple effect across the broader aviation industry, which is estimated to be responsible for between two and three per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions.
Boeing commercial airplanes president and chief executive Stan Deal said SAFs were "the safest and most measurable solution" to curb aviation sector emissions in the short term. "We're committed to working with regulators, engine companies and other key stakeholders to ensure our airplanes and eventually our industry can fly entirely on sustainable jet fuels," he said.
Current fuel specifications permit blends up of to 50 per cent sustainable fuels with conventional jet fuel, a limit Boeing said it would work to raise over the coming decade through collaboration with regulators and industry.
Advocates argue that SAFs offer the fastest way to cut emissions across the carbon-intensive aviation sector in the short-term, while also providing a means of mobilising investment in the supply chain and creating jobs as part of a green economy. Boeing was among a number of major players across the aviation supply chain that called on UK and EU governments to introduce a sustainable aviation fuel mandate from 2025 that would require a minimum share of SAF to be blended into traditional jet fuel.
However, critics have long argued that high costs and limited capacity, as well as concerns over the availability of sustainable feedstocks, mean jet biofuels risk becoming a distraction from the need to curb demand for flights and step up investment in zero emission technologies, such as electric and fuel cell aircraft.
Others want to see the market for SAFs grow rapidly, but warn that it is unlikely to prove a 'silver bullet' for tackling the aviation industry's emissions. The Committee on Climate Change (CCC) estimates that green fuels will only meet 10 per cent of aviation fuel demand in the UK by 2050.
But Boeing chief sustainability officer Chris Raymond emphasised that sustainable aviation fuels were the best tool the aviation industry had to decarbonise. "Sustainable aviation fuels are proven, used every day, and have the most immediate and greatest potential to reduce carbon emissions in the near and long term when we work together as an industry," he said.
Boeing stressed that it had proved that fossil fuel free flight was possible in 2018, when it worked with FedEx express to deliver the world's first 100 per cent SAF-powered flight.