The journey to zero-emissions transport – part two

The transport sector already accounts for a quarter of global CO2 emissions, and is growing fast. The challenge, argues EIT Climate-KIC, is systemic and goes well beyond incremental technological improvements in electric vehicles and alternative fuels. In this three-part series, we outline a few of the diverse mobility-related experiments embedded in our whole systems approach to tackling climate change.

Part one: In 2019, EIT Climate-KIC launched a ‘Deep Demonstration’ of Resilient, Net-Zero-Emissions Maritime Hubs with partners in Valencia, Piraeus and Cyprus. The initiative is one of eight EIT Climate-KIC projects designed to trigger systemic changes that can lead to rapid reductions in CO2 emissions across Europe and beyond. In another Deep Demonstration—Healthy, Clean Cities—we tackle multiple city systems, including mobility, buildings, health, jobs, regeneration, etc., in an integrated way to accelerate the shift to zero-emissions cities.

Part two: As part of our ‘systems innovation portfolio’ we also support a small selection of exponential technologies—e.g. through acceleration of start-ups and projects focused on electric flight, cleaner jet fuel, and carbon capture and re-use.

Part three: Finally, we look at cultural shifts related to mobility, including Sail to COP and Rail to COP.  


 

A different way to fly

Stricter regulations are also being introduced for aviation in response to the climate crisis. The sector already accounts for two per cent of global emissions. With the number of flights expected to double in the next 20 years— to 8.2 billion air travellers—the emissions of the travel industry alone will exceed the annual global carbon budget to limit warming to 1.5 degrees.

While public awareness is increasing, most people don’t realise how egregious flying actually is. Emissions from a single flight can dwarf the carbon savings from other lifestyle changes, such as going vegan. A return flight from Amsterdam to Santiago in Chile, for example, emits 3,800 kg CO2—equivalent to the amount of CO2 saved by eating a vegetarian diet for eight years.

The industry is moving to limit the damage. The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), for example, finalised an agreement in 2016 to address carbon emissions by implementing the Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation (CORSIA). Under the scheme, international passenger and cargo flight emissions would have to be offset, using forestry and other carbon-reducing measures. It will take effect in 2021 and will become obligatory in 2027.

This scheme was hailed by some parties as ambitious, but the target—a 50 per cent reduction in emissions by 2050 based on 2005 levels—is still not in line with the 1.5 degree limit. It fails to propose a tax on kerosene or carbon and allows governments to continue heavily subsidising flights. That all keeps flights artificially cheap, encouraging people to fly. Political change is needed to encourage people to fly less and to shift to alternative modes of transport.

Along with these reforms, we also need bold, technological innovation to get off fossil jet fuel. EIT Climate-KIC has invested in a number of exponential technologies, such as electric helicopter taxi Volocopter and five-seater electric jet Lilium, which are paving the way towards the aviation industry’s dream: Electric flight.

It will be a while before full-sized commercial aircraft go electric. Battery technology is not yet advanced enough to power planes for the distances they cover and weight they carry. Fuel is still 40 to 50 times more power-dense. With the average plane 100 times heavier than a mid-sized car, batteries need to become much more compact and more powerful per kilogram. However, there are already some promising experiments, with the first commercial electric flight flown by Harbour Air in December 2019.

As we innovate our way to electric flight, alternative fuels can help to cut emissions. EIT Climate-KIC has supported SkyNRG—a pioneer in sustainable aviation fuel—in developing a supply chain for a fuel made from waste oils, including used chip fat. SkyNRG are developing a factory in Groningen to supply KLM and German multinational SHV Energy that will be Europe’s first facility to produce and supply sustainable fuel and bio propane.

The fuel will lead to an 85 per cent reduction in lifecycle emissions and will also reduce nitrous oxide and fine particulate matter. Although there is a similar amount of CO2 emitted during the flight, as the fuel is a chemically identical hydrocarbon, using waste oil and residues that would otherwise be destined for landfill eliminates the emissions from drilling, transporting, processing and refining fossil fuels.

“The ideal would be using CO2, water, and renewable electricity to create hydrogen, because it’s zero-emission and the waste product is water. But that technology is not yet ready to be scaled up,” says Maarten van Dijk, SkyNRG’s managing director.

Creating and supplying sustainable biofuels, such as the one SkyNRG has developed from waste oils, takes 8-10 years from the lab stage to production and hundreds of millions of euros. But van Dijk is not deterred by detractors who say alternative fuel development is too slow, or that it distracts attention and investment from electric flight.

“We need it all. First we have to reduce the amount of fossil fuel needed with everything we can do. Reduction of demand, smarter flying, better taxing. Then, electric! The more electric, the better. Then, we need to substitute whatever share jet fuel has left with sustainable fuel. That’s it,” he says.

 
Location
Related Focus Area
Urban Transitions
Related Goal
Goal 3: Accelerate clean urban mobility
Articles you may be interested in
In The News
In the face of complex challenges, Europe stronger together, says EU President...

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen outlined her...

In the face of complex challenges, Europe stronger together, says EU President von der Leyen
In The News
New IPCC report reveals urgent need for climate innovation

The IPCC’s Sixth Assessment Report has launched. The report...

New IPCC report reveals urgent need for climate innovation
In The News
Moving beyond ‘brown coal’ in Europe’s rural regions

Together with Partners, EIT Climate-KIC is leading a process...

Moving beyond ‘brown coal’ in Europe’s rural regions
In The News
EU’s “Fit for 55” to spur policy innovation for climate action

The European Commission has released its “Fit for 55”...

EU’s “Fit for 55” to spur policy innovation for climate action
In The News
Munich Re and ERGO invest in EIT Climate-KIC carbon removal programme

Major German corporate group sets the ambition to accelerate...

Munich Re and ERGO invest in EIT Climate-KIC carbon removal programme
In The News
23 pilot projects selected by EIT to unlock higher education’s innovation po...

The European Institute of Innovation and Technology (EIT) has...

23 pilot projects selected by EIT to unlock higher education’s innovation potential in Europe
In The News
Investing in start-ups scales the offering of climate adaptation solutions in ...

A partnership between EIT Climate-KIC and CDC Group, the...

Investing in start-ups scales the offering of climate adaptation solutions in African and South Asian countries
In The News
Irish Aid extends support for innovation and development from the ground up

The Government of Ireland’s development assistance programme, Irish Aid,...

Irish Aid extends support for innovation and development from the ground up
In The News
EIT Climate-KIC showcases climate innovation at R&I Days

EIT Climate-KIC participated in the European Commission’s Research and...

EIT Climate-KIC showcases climate innovation at R&I Days
In The News
Branch Magazine wins Ars Electronica Award for Digital Humanity

Branch Magazine, a collaboration between EIT Climate-KIC, Mozilla Foundation...

Branch Magazine wins Ars Electronica Award for Digital Humanity
In The News
Cross-KIC project to boost circular economy in Western Balkans

The circular economy concept is of crucial importance to...

Cross-KIC project to boost circular economy in Western Balkans
In The News
Exploring new horizons with Pioneers into Practice

Enrolment is now open for placement hosts and participants...

Exploring new horizons with Pioneers into Practice
In The News
Circular bioeconomy start-up receives €2 million from European Innovation Co...

EIT Climate-KIC supported Lixea (formerly Chrysalix Technologies) has received...

Circular bioeconomy start-up receives €2 million from European Innovation Council Fund
In The News
Embracing a new approach to climate change in Moldova

Moldova is one of Europe’s most modest contributors to...

Embracing a new approach to climate change in Moldova
In The News
Krakow: transforming the city towards climate neutrality

Poland’s former capital and one of its oldest cities,...

Krakow: transforming the city towards climate neutrality
In The News
Is Europe doing enough to tackle climate change?

On 23 April, EIT Climate-KIC CEO Kirsten Dunlop spoke...

Is Europe doing enough to tackle climate change?
In The News
EU Commission publishes sustainable finance taxonomy

The European Commission has published its EU-wide classification system for...

EU Commission publishes sustainable finance taxonomy
In The News
New European Bauhaus: what kind of future do you want to live in?

On 22 and 23 April, the first conference dedicated...

New European Bauhaus: what kind of future do you want to live in?
In The News
Estonian innovation to help stabilise grid as renewables increase

EIT Climate-KIC supported Estonian start-up Sympower has raised €5.2...

Estonian innovation to help stabilise grid as renewables increase
In The News
Five EIT Climate-KIC community members in Forbes 30 under 30 list

Twelve entrepreneurs from across the EIT community have been...

Five EIT Climate-KIC community members in Forbes 30 under 30 list
In The News
These eleven organisations are building a greener Europe

Google, in partnership with EIT Climate-KIC, launched the €10...

These eleven organisations are building a greener Europe
In The News
New equity crowdfunding programme unearths cleantech start-ups

Found by us, funded by you, a new start-up...

New equity crowdfunding programme unearths cleantech start-ups
In The News
From start-up to 100-person industry player in 18 months: air up is launching ...

It’s a beverage revolution: Healthy hydration while fooling your...

From start-up to 100-person industry player in 18 months: air up is launching in new markets
In The News
#TurnItAround: an event for all climate solutions seekers, suppliers and enabl...

As part of the fifth SDG Global festival of...

#TurnItAround: an event for all climate solutions seekers, suppliers and enablers
In The News
New EIT initiative to boost innovation in higher education

The European Institute of Innovation and Technology (EIT) is...

New EIT initiative to boost innovation in higher education
In The News
Just transition within reach for Polish coal city Rybnik

“We are preparing plans for the next decade. Mentality is...

Just transition within reach for Polish coal city Rybnik
In The News
Inclusive guide helps communities build urban resilience

The new Urban Action Kit, launched by the International...

Inclusive guide helps communities build urban resilience
In The News
Climate app among DigiEduHack 2020 global finalists

The DigiEduHack, supported by EIT Climate-KIC as well as...

Climate app among DigiEduHack 2020 global finalists
In The News
GreeMko receives Climate Reality Project Award in Spain 

GreeMko (for Green Management Technology), a Spanish start-up that...

GreeMko receives Climate Reality Project Award in Spain 
In The News
What’s the future of trade in a climate crisis?

EIT Climate-KIC Chief Executive Officer Kirsten Dunlop addressed the...

What’s the future of trade in a climate crisis?