“Betting everything on innovation and technology can in no way save us from the climate crash”

“Within ten years, sustainable aviation fuels will represent 10% of industry needs. » This sentence, signed by the International Air Transport Association (IATA in English), was pronounced in 2007. However, fifteen years later, this share of fuels “sustainable” amounts to… 0.01%.

In terms of sustainability, the gap between announcements and results is still just as glaring in air transport. The initiatives are there, however, as well as a certain political will, but the obstacles remain major and the energy constraint largely underestimated. Thus, betting everything on innovation and technology, as is the case today, can in no way save us from the climate crash.

Let’s start with alternative fuels, the great hope of the airlines if ever there was one. Admittedly, the airline sector is more virtuous than the automobile since it uses second-generation biofuels (therefore entering little or no competition with agricultural land). Today it is mainly used frying oil or animal fats. But this resource, the only one widely used today, will never be usable on a large scale and will cover at best 5% of industry needs by 2030, as the producers themselves acknowledge.

In its decarbonization plan, the sector is therefore relying on technologies that are little or not developed today, such as synthetic fuels (e-fuel), which will require colossal quantities of (green) energy to be produced. However, with the European electricity mix promised for 2035, producing e-fuel will be barely less polluting than conventional kerosene (and even then, assuming that the Member States keep their promises in terms of decarbonization).

The end of many illusions

Secondly, the “green” or “zero carbon” aircraft is mentioned. We talk a lot about the hydrogen plane, focusing on the technology. But who seriously cares about the energy needed to power such devices? Remember that the airline industry burns nearly 1.2 billion liters of oil every day. Where the hell are we going to find the energy needed to produce the equivalent in hydrogen? In France alone, it is estimated that several additional nuclear reactors would be necessary, entirely dedicated to the sector. The same reasoning applies to the electric plane. Overcoming technological pitfalls is entirely possible, but what about energy? Far from creating an energy shortage, the war in Ukraine has only accelerated its appearance: the hour of “the end of abundance” sounded and, with it, the end of many illusions about the “clean” aircraft used on a large scale.

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