EU urged to cut aviation emissions faster than expected

Ciarán Cuffe, a Green MEP who is shadow rapporteur for the ReFuelEU Aviation dossier in the European Parliament’s Transport Committee, has called for EU legislation on clean fuels for aviation to be amended to include so-called no-effects related to CO2. This includes the release of soot and noxious gases, including sulfur and nitrogen oxide, as well as water vapor, from jet engines.

At high altitudes, these emissions can cause contrails to form, which have a much larger net warming effect than CO2, according to a 2020 EU study. which is of particular concern to people living nearby. airports.

“We know that aviation’s non-CO2 effects account for two-thirds of the sector’s overall climate impact, but that remains unregulated,” Cuffe said.

“It is not credible to delay another decade and rely solely on the voluntary efforts of industry. It hasn’t worked so far and it won’t work in the future,” he added.

The Irish MEP has tabled an amendment imposing a gradual reduction in the aromatics and sulfur content of aviation fuels, two elements responsible for much of the non-CO2 pollution emitted by aircraft.

Airplane function impacted

Despite the climate and health impacts, complete removal of all aromatic content from fuel is not immediately possible, as aromatics are required to keep aircraft running at peak performance.

“Aromatics are added to the fuel to keep the aircraft’s seals working. And when you take them out, things happen like joints that start to leak, tanks that leak, pumps that become unreliable,” explained Ron van Manen, strategic development manager for Clean Aviation Joint Undertaking, a program supported by the EU and industry to accelerate green aircraft innovation.

“There are a number of NGOs that are saying – and they have a very valid point – that we can remove aromatics from fossil fuels much sooner. The problem is that if you removed them tomorrow, the plane would have a problem .

Adapting the current fleet to operate without aromatics would require costly modernization, which airlines are unlikely to adopt in the short term. Service stations should also be upgraded to handle aromatic-free fuels.

“That timeline to modify the fleet to be able to fly on aromatic-free fuels is probably around a decade, unless you make it mandatory,” van Manen said.

This upgrade will eventually become unavoidable, however, as Sustainable Aviation Fuels (SAFs), such as biofuels and second-generation electrofuels, are free of aromatics. Under EU proposals, at least 63% of the fuel carried by aircraft at EU airports will be SAF by 2050.

Political champions

Cuffe is not the only MEP to defend the inclusion of non-CO2 effects in the ReFuelEU Aviation proposal. Nicolás González Casares, a centre-left MEP who is leading the dossier in the European Parliament’s environment committee, called for a report from the European Commission on “optimizing the aromatics content of aviation” be prepared by 2030.

German MEP Jutta Paulus, a green lawmaker tasked with preparing the European Parliament’s Industry Committee opinion on ReFuelEU Aviation, has also pushed for dramatically reduced levels of aromatics and sulfur in kerosene.

Asking fuel suppliers to change the composition of kerosene can drive up prices, but the impact on costs will be limited, according to Paulus.

“It’s not a technological problem, we can easily lower the sulfur and aromatic content of fuels. It costs money; you will have a 5% or 10% surcharge on aviation fuel. But it doesn’t triple the price of fuel,” Paulus told EURACTIV in an interview in February.

A reference to non-CO2 effects is expected to be included in Parliament’s amended ReFuelEU Aviation dossier, which is led by Søren Gade, a centrist lawmaker from Denmark.

The topic is likely to face greater opposition from EU member states, although it is not without supporters in the EU Council of Ministers, notably in the Netherlands. In a document seen by EURACTIV, the Dutch government encouraged the French Presidency of the Council to add a new clause obliging the European Commission to explore ways to mitigate the non-CO2 climate impact of aviation, with the findings presented in a report by the end of 2023. .

‘Last chance’

The increased attention by lawmakers to non-CO2 effects has been welcomed by clean mobility NGO Transport & Environment (T&E), which has campaigned vigorously to put the issue on the legislative agenda.

“Now is our last chance to fix a major problem with the Fit for 55 package: the lack of CO2-free aviation mitigation,” said Matteo Mirolo, head of aviation policy at T&E.

In addition to a reduction in the aromatics and sulfur content of jet fuel, T&E is calling for a monitoring system to be put in place to quantify non-CO2 effects under the EU carbon market.

“At a time when bold and ambitious climate action is needed, the EU cannot accept that two-thirds of aviation’s climate impact will continue to slip under the legislative radar,” T&E wrote in a recent briefing on the subject.

Sean GouldingCarroll,

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