New briefing from AEF explains position with UK aviation use of biofuels, and the Renewable Transport Fuels Obligation issue

“Sustainable” fuels (largely biofuels, or fuels made from wastes) are viewed, particularly by the aviation industry, as a key component in their plans to keep on growing rapidly.  The industry has wildly optimistic hopes about the extent to which these “alternative” fuels will enable the industry to continue expanding but claiming its CO2 emissions are falling. Estimates of how much biofuel will actually be used by 2050 vary greatly from the (frankly crazy) estimate by “Sustainable Aviation” that it will account for 40% of all fuel, to the more realistic estimate by the DfT that it will make up 2.5%. (The Airports Commission believed this might reach 5.6% with government assistance). The Aviation Environment Federation (AEF) has produced a useful 2-page briefing, explaining the issues. It is important to note that the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) that believed UK air passenger numbers could grow by at most 60% of the 2005 level by 2050 keeping within the 37.5MtCO2 cap – assuming 10% use of alternative fuels. (ie. less than 60% if the amount of alternative fuels is lower). The Government will be consulting on possible changes to the Renewable Transport Fuels Obligation (RTFO)  that could allow producers of aviation biofuel to benefit from the scheme – an effective subsidy. AEF does not support this use of public money, to assist an industry  (that pays no VAT or fuel duty) pay its climate costs.

Biofuels are currently ‘zero rated’ under the EU ETS, with the emissions associated with their use being exempt from carbon pricing. Airlines operating flights within the EU can already benefit from this incentive.


Aviation biofuels and the renewable transport fuels obligation

Sustainable fuels are viewed, particularly by the aviation industry, as an integral component in the sector’s basket of measures towards managing its growth in CO2 emissions.

Emissions from the aviation industry globally are expected to triple out to 2050 without additional action, while the global aviation industry has a self-imposed target of cutting net [NB. net not gross] emissions in half by 2050 compared to 2005 levels.  It argues this could be achieved through technology, operational improvements and alternative fuels.

The UK coalition Sustainable Aviation has argued in its CO2 roadmap that biofuels could make up 40% of aviation fuel in 2050 and contribute to a 24% reduction in emissions, if the fuel provided a 60% improvement in life-cycle emissions.

The Committee on Climate Change meanwhile estimated in 2009 that alternative fuels would contribute only 10% of total aviation fuel in 2050 under a likely scenario, contributing to a 5% reduction in emissions (assuming a 50% improvement in life-cycle emissions).

The Department for Transport predicted in its 2013 forecast that alternative fuels would account for just 2.5% of aviation’s total fuel in 2050, which the Airports Commission argued could be increased to 5.6% of aviation fuel by 2050 through Government intervention.

Sustainable Aviation produced a roadmap in November 2014  [the document itself is not dated] with recommendations about how to improve uptake of aviation alternative fuels through:

  • allowing aviation fuel producers to claim Renewable Transport Fuels Obligation certificates in line with road transport fuels;
  • encouraging investment in aviation biofuels; and
  • prioritising research and development into sustainable aviation fuels

The Government recently confirmed that it would be consulting on possible changes to the Renewable Transport Fuels Obligation (RTFO) this year and could allow producers of aviation biofuel to benefit from the scheme.

AEF’s new briefing considers aviation biofuel, and the questions which need to be answered in order to understand the impact that an extension of the renewable fuels obligation to aviation could have.

While we are currently open-minded about possible aviation access to certificates under the RTFO, we believe it remains critical not to overplay the likely role of biofuel in solving the aviation emissions challenge. Since aviation already benefits from paying neither fuel tax nor VAT we would be very cautious about supporting any allocation of public money to help industry pay its climate costs.


Download the Briefing (2 pages):

 AEF Briefing: Aviation biofuels and the renewable transport fuels obligation

For more information on this topic, please contact Cait Hewitt 020 3102 1509 /

Related AEF articles

Industry group’s alternative fuel road-map      Jan 14 2015

“Technology myths” are stalling aviation climate policy   Feb 29 2016