Airbus CEO says the airline industry must cut carbon emission with 50% by 2050

By Bjorn Fehrm 

June 18, 2019, ©. Leeham News: Airbus new management team has set the company ambitious targets for the future. These not only describe how to develop and produce new, more competitive airliners but also defines Airbus’ contribution to a sustainable aviation industry, contributing its part in the fight against climate change.

The new Airbus CEO, Guillaume Faury said at the opening of the Paris Air show “We must find a way to decarbonized aviation. This is for our generation to do. It’s expected of us by the flying public and by society”.

Decarbonized aviation

Carbon emission and the burning of fossil fuels are connected to 100%. When fuel is combusted in the engines of our aircraft, each kg of burned fuel produce 3kg of CO2 gas.

If we don’t do something about the emission of CO2 from our airliners we will double the emission by 2050 as we double the number of aircraft,” said Faury. “We must not double the carbon footprint by 2050, we must half it.

We must support CORSIA, ICAO’s Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation because it’s a global issue and we need to find a global solution for a Carbon offset initiative”.

CORSIA is an international carbon offsetting scheme where international air travel shall be offset, so carbon emissions are flat between 2020 and 2035. This will ensure a carbon-neutral growth of aviation in this period before new technologies and processes can take aviation to the objective of a 50% reduction by 2050.

We have already done a lot, “ said Faury “We have cut fuel consumption with 80% since the beginning of the jet age. But it’s not enough to reduce fuel consumption at today’s rates. A new generation of decarbonized airplanes must be the target for our developments.

The development in e-aircraft is a step in getting there. There, battery driven aircraft will need to be replaced by aircraft driven by other, more efficient energy sources. The energy density of batteries is simply too low for anything beyond Urban Air Mobility.

When innovating and developing our way to carbon neutral aviation we need to find new fuels which in their creation are carbon neutral. There is no point in having fuels with the high energy density suitable for aviation, like liquid hydrogen when by producing them we create high carbon emissions. Then we have achieved nothing”.

So it’s not only about the airborne solution. It’s about the whole chain which must be developed for lower carbon emission. This is the goal we must set ourselves” said Faury. “It challenging but at the same time exiting. We must use our technology and innovative power to achieve these goals. This is our real challenge going forward, beyond developing and producing new, more competitive aircraft”.

Faury was careful in his wording, not tying Airbus to any solution like “we will have an all-electric aircraft by XXX”. In subsequent questions and answers, he was well aware of all the challenges for electric aircraft described in my Friday Corners. In fact, we agree on all points and he pointed to alternative ways ahead such as new innovative hybrid solutions not discussed to date or the focus on hydrogen solutions.

Why would you do the hybrid solutions proposed today, they add complexity, weight with volume and offer no gains?” was his comment. The target is there and it’s an important one. The work to find a solution is also started with Airbus’ Vahanna, CityAirbus and E-Fan X as experiments and learnings on the way. The content of a solution is not clear today, but the need to find one is.

19 Comments on “Airbus CEO says the airline industry must cut carbon emission with 50% by 2050

  1. Good,well balanced article.Energy density is the issue.However there is perhaps one area of ‘low hanging fruit’ that is being addressed and could perhaps be accelerated.
    This is using hub mounted electric motors for ground manoeuvres.My understanding is that the present system of using the jet engines is horribly inefficient.
    Not only does it ( obviously) add unnecessary CO2 to the atmosphere it adds ‘localised pollution’ both noise and toxic gasses in the atmosphere that surrounds the airport.
    It surely must be possible to plug in a super fast charging system when the aircraft is undergoing its turnaround at an airport ready for the next flight.Obviously the batteries can be recharged in flight ( probably for ‘free’ during decent).
    There are one or two systems being actively developed.Does anyone know the outcome of tests and any entry into service dates?
    If they work perhaps they should be made mandatory by year xxxx giving airports the time to introduce the required charging infrastructure ( an sure Tesla would help!)

  2. In terms of decarbonizing ground movements, a fleet of remote controlled or autonomous vehicles could move aircraft just like pushback vehicles close to the gate. Yes, it would require an investment but it might well be worth it. I’d be interested to crunch the numbers…

    Still, these are only temporary stopgap measures. Aviation needs a wholesale way to reduce its share of emissions. However, as this likely won’t be possible with today’s technology, regulation should be there for requiring the offsetting of emissions. If the price per Ton of CO2 is correct, the market will explore the way to offset in the most cost effective way.

    • Electrifying everything on the ground is the low hanging fruit. It would require a substantial change in operations, and substantial redesign of aircraft systems, but it needs to start happening today. There are no energy density problems incurred by this (in fact, it should mean that aircraft haul less fuel into the sky, since they’re not keeping reserves for delays on the ground).

  3. I fully agree with the sentiment but the observation is vacuous in extent, the target date is sufficiently far off to be just beyond any meaningful planning cycle and the cut percentage is arbitrary with no detail as to how it may be achieved. So a wistful thought and no more.

    To my mind this is the elephant in the room for the whole aviation industry. we have massive and consistent growth year on year but we all know that it will have to change. At some point legislation will come crashing down on the industry when the desire for cheap and easy travel is supplanted by the fear of climate change. It will happen and the aero industry has no response at present.

    A better and more constructed argument would look at some medium term moves that could be implemented to get the sort of reduction that is needed. Such things as:
    – weight reduction
    – better airspace management
    – slowing shorthaul aircraft and reverting to props
    – electric assisted taxiing
    – blended wing design

    I am talking about the sort of things we can relatively easily do now, a step change in performance is needed but where from is beyond me

    • Correct. It is an empty statement at this point. Even a strong immediate commitment to biofuels from the industry would be a large step forward.

      We’ll see electric short haul in the next few decades, but everything over 1000NM will be fossil fuel powered for the foreseeable future. The steps you have suggested are both necessary and achievable. I’d add electric APUs to the list of suggestions.

      • electric APUs? how does that even make sense? an APU is a generator for producing electricity. are you suggesting using electricity to generate electricity? or just a big ass battery pack that is used as an APU would be?

        fuel cell APUs might make sense.

        • I’m suggesting that APUs are replaced with electrical systems that can perform the same activities. Those might be fuel-cells, batteries, and might also be supplemented by ground power units assisting until the chocks are removed.

  4. It is the net CO2 emissions that is the problem, hence if you have a huge CO2 uptake if trees that can be partly used to make fuel but the major growth used for constrution timber replacing concrete you will have a good net result. Expanding tropical rain forests and woodlands that has been burned for farming is one way, remeber the squirell that could jump from tree to tree from Lake Michigan to the Gulf of Mexico before huges areas of USA became farmland. Modern farming in greenhouses can replace huge areas now used for crops farming. Even airports can grow trees up to 1″ dia on grass fields before being cut and converted into JET-A.

  5. 50% carbon reduction while doubling capacity will require a step change in aircraft aero and structural design to BWB/FlyingV/DoubleBubble/TripleBubble/TBW/Canard (or combinations of all)

    then it will require a continuing aggressive development of turbine technology combining GTF, semi-open rotor, CMC and other advanced materials, greater electrification

    either semi-autonomous electric tugs (autonomous travel from end of runway other end of runway, controlled by pilot once docked to nosewheel) for ground movement or electric nosewheels

    then there needs to be comprehensive carbon offsetting in the form of reforestation, shutting down of FF powerplants and construction of solar, tide/current/non dam based hydro and wind power generation.

    I fully expect none of this to happen.

    • For each generation of narrowbody engine you can get 15% reduction in CO2. Still it is a problem giving this technology away in 1000’s of engines where key parts can be reengieered for military use. Bigger geared fans might be answer while keeping the Turbine inlet temp on LEAP levels. Narrowbody airlines might look like slim C-5’s in the future with 140-160″ fans.

  6. as for electric tugs (autonomous and remote control), these have been on the market and in use for 5-10 years now.

    Taxibots have probably received the most recognition in the press

    Also, note that airport ground support equipment (GSE) in general offers lots of opportunity to electrify, especially since the distances are short, low duty cycle, and recharging stations can be installed relatively easily

  7. So everyone is buying the man-made-climate-change / CO² narrative?

    I used to, but about 10 years ago, my curiosity was piqued by the increasingly unbelievable alarmist pronouncements. Once I started looking for contrary opinions, I was not long before I became a skeptic and then a non-believer.

    Yes, the climate is changing, but very slowly. World temperatures have risen 0.5 °C over the last 40 years. All this is part of normal natural cycles, as the last ice age ended about 11 700 years ago. An ice age is a truly catastrophic change in climate:

    Carbon dioxide is a trace gas (0.04% of the atmosphere), needed for photosynthesis and life on Earth. Human influence on climate is, at worst, negligible.

    Policies arising from the false belief in man-made climate change are much more dangerous.

    Start here:

  8. I think that most start thinking about fuel efficiency and fuel burn reductions whenever lower carbon emissions are mentioned.

    But as Claes touched upon up-thread the problem is that we use FOSSIL sources for aviation fuel. Would we use renewable sources for aviation fuel this would, regarding CO2, mostly be a non-issue.

    Would we produce aviation fuel from renewable sources (plants) CO2 would be relased when combusted but taken up during production, thus forming a circular CO2-economy with zero net emissions (provided the energy used for prodction comes from renewable sources, not an unreasonable assumption in 2019).

    There is a very good paper on the topic from the ISABE conference in Beijing in 2007 (from Boeing, interestingly enough):
    Alternate Fuels for Use in Commercial Aircraft, Daggett et al

    As a side note: if I remember correctly, the paper concluded algae would be most area efficienct for fuel production.

    In my view, the failure of the world’s petroleum companies to offer liquid based fuels adhering to existing standards (Jet-A, gasoline 95 octane, Diesel, etc) must soon be one of the greatest (multiple) corporate failures in history. Had they, the CO2 portion (i.e. the greatest part) of the environmental discussion around ICE equipped vehicles would be non-existent. The technology is there (Fischer-Tropsch anyone?), but needs to applied in scale (which they very much have the resources to do).

    Instead we have electrical cars and they look to loose 90% of their market (for land based vehicles) in the very near future. Sure, ships and airplanes will still be around using carbohydrates, but it is clear (from the present article if not else) that a change is/will/must be imminent. In the threat of legislation/carbon taxation I think it will come… (when it starts to cost money, technological development can be surprisingly quick…).

    H2 as fuel I think is interesting, but do not forget that we already have a quite efficient distribution infrastructure for liquid based fuels and the cost of building new infrastructure needs to be considered before advocating a shift in fuel (this includes electric vehicles, where slow might charging personal vehicles – cars – might work with smart charging algorithms, but where commercial vehicles – e.g. public transport – can never be charged as needed using existing electrical grids; I talked to an expert in the field on just this topic just yesterday).

    Note: all western world legislation regarding vehicle emissions are on NOx and particles, there is currently no legislation covering CO2 emissions. There is a good reason: combustion is inheritly linked to CO2 emissions and cannot be legislated away. But CO2 emissions can be taxed (through the fuel for example). NOx and particles can on the other hand be dealt with, there exists technologies for this, check EURO6 for example).

  9. “There is no point in having fuels with the high energy density suitable for aviation, like liquid hydrogen when by producing them we create high carbon emissions. Then we have achieved nothing”.”

    Did nobody else pick this ridiculous comment out?

    I’m not sure whether or not hydrogen would be a viable fuel given the need for heavy storage tanks but my high school chemistry class taught me that this is the result of combustion of hydrogen:
    H2 + 2 * O2 –> 2* H2O.

    Not sure where M. Faury gets the idea that burning hydrogen creates carbon dioxide. I thought the French were good t teaching science.

    • He is referring to the energy used the create liquid hydrogen. If that is done with a CO2 generating energy source, you gain nothing in total CO2 amount.

  10. There are two fundamental fallacies in Airbus’ direction:
    – activists claim to speak for everyone, but even many of the people claiming to support reduction in use of fossil fuels don’t: case in point is Richard Branson, who jets around the world on his own play and runs an airline, if he really believed his PR he’d shut the airline down.
    – the notion that humans can ruin earth’s climate is a scam, runaway warming is not happening, did not during warmer periods like the MWP when Vikings farmed southwest Greenland, and cannot happen due to the saturation effect from the overlap of absorption/emission spectra of carbon dioxide and dihydrogen monoxide.

    The real problem is voters electing officials who are climate alarmists or worse. (A UN official publicly stated that the UN’s goal is income redistribution, that fine Marxist principle that comes from denial of the mind that obviously produces food, shelter, mobility, and better health. There’s an anti-human mentality about, I say that’s a psychological problem, in the minds of peddlers and suckers for them.

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