07 May 2010 11:05:06
What can be done to make aviation more environmentally friendly?
Air travel is a major contributor to carbon emissions from many developed countries. In 2006, aviation alone accounted for 6.4 per cent of the UK's CO2 emissions. It is predicted that unless changes take place this figure could rise to ten per cent.
Friends of the Earth calculate that worldwide more than 600 million tonnes of carbon dioxide are emitted from flights each year, the same amount, it claims, as that released by all human activity in Africa.
What's more, aviation can also have a significant impact on the quality of the air. Kerosene, the main component of most jet fuels, releases gases like carbon monoxide alongside CO2.
This has led to companies looking for new ways to mitigate some of the effects of flying and earlier this month United Airlines became the first commercial carrier in the US to operate a flight using synthetic jet fuel, made from natural gas.
Created by the US firm Rentech, the synthetic fuel reduces ground level pollution by emitting 96 per cent less particles from an idle engine.
The firm claims that the lower density of the fuel allows for a lighter takeoff weight, meaning less fuel is used during the flight. This fuel is also used by the US air force.
United Airlines sent up a team of 19 engineers and observers to assess both the performance and environmental benefits of the fuel.
However, it could be many years before synthetic jet fuels become the norm within the industry.
One option which is available now is carbon offsetting. The UK government's offsetting scheme offers air travellers the opportunity to pay someone to make a reduction equivalent to the emissions from that flight.
Projects which the government says have already benefitted from the scheme include hydroelectric power plants in Fiji and wind energy schemes in Cyprus.
Although with the cost of such schemes being passed directly to the consumer, some may doubt how great the uptake will be.
There is also, of course, the solution of using air travel less.
The results of the United Airlines test flight are due to be released within the next week, but how long will it be before a definitive answer on how best to make the aviation industry more environmentally friendly is revealed?