Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) issues are now seen as a key risk to aviation investments, and authorities worldwide are demanding more transparency and stricter reporting standards. It’s never been more important to understand the pathways to net zero emissions and their real-term impacts on all key players across the industry.
Each month, IBA’s ESG Consulting team share key insights and the latest news from the growing world of sustainable aviation.
Airbus plans to test its hydrogen fuel cell system on the A380 in 2026 as part of the ZEROe project. Ground tests conducted at the end of 2023 achieved 1.2-megawatt at full power, meeting Airbus’ target on the A380 test aircraft. There are two ways to use hydrogen as a fuel source for aircraft propulsion - hydrogen fuel cells and hydrogen combustion engines. Airbus has used hydrogen fuel cell technology as it offers the potential for noise reduction, lighter weight, lower maintenance, and higher efficiency.
Despite these benefits, challenges such as the cost of platinum used in production, contrail and nitrogen emissions as well as volumetric storage remain. IBA is undeterred by these challenges as it perceives this development as a positive stride in advancing the production of ZEROe aircraft, representing a noteworthy innovation for the industry. Nevertheless, a prominent concern shared by many is the timeline for the commercial availability of this technology.
At the recently concluded, Airline Economics conference in Dublin, industry stakeholders observed a shift in investor priorities, with environmental, social, and governance (ESG) concerns receding due to pressing issues such as the scarcity of fuel-efficient aircraft. Notably, leading aircraft lessors emphasised the need for substantial government investments to facilitate a transition to greener fuels, specifically sustainable aviation fuel (SAF).
Aengus Kelly, CEO at AerCap, one of the industry's biggest lessors, asserted that governments must allocate significant taxpayer funds to achieve widespread adoption of SAF, estimating a capital requirement between $1.45 trillion and $3.2 trillion to attain the industry's 65% SAF goal by 2050. Despite airlines' commitments to using SAF, challenges such as limited supply and high costs hinder progress. Industry leaders, including Avolon CEO Andy Cronin, underscored the necessity for policy intervention to ensure infrastructure development, innovation, and cost control for SAF.
However, Ireland's Environment Minister, Eamon Ryan, countered that SAF production should predominantly rely on private sector funding, emphasising the industry's obligation to meet emission targets. Overall, the discourse on ESG issues among lessors came with some scepticism. IBA acknowledges these concerns from a lessor perspective, however from an industry-wide level, there is ongoing research and developments on various feedstock, production costs and efficiency, developing government regulations and interest from financial institutions to provide essential capital.
FUELGAE Project is a four-year, €5 million ($5.5m) EU-funded project that aims to reassess algae's potential as a fuel source for aviation and maritime industries. Coordinated by CSIC (the Spanish National Research Council) along with a consortium of 13 partners, the project will focus on developing a novel method for producing advanced liquid fuels from CO₂ emissions using a pilot photobioreactor with selected microalgae strains.
The primary challenge addressed is the high energy consumption of microalgae-based processes, hindering their economic viability. The project seeks to reduce energy consumption through innovative treatment methods, making the process economically and environmentally sustainable. The FUELGAE consortium plans to build a microalgae pilot plant at an ArcelorMittal steel plant in Romania and a biorefinery in Spain, evaluating technologies through life-cycle analysis.
FUELGAE represents a comprehensive approach to reducing CO₂ emissions and transforming them into advanced liquid fuels, with technologies evolving towards future commercialisation. Additionally, a recent biorefinery in Istanbul processes algae biomass for various sectors, including fuel, indicating ongoing interest and developments in algae-based solutions.
Despite past scepticism and delays in algae fuel projects, the Algae Biomass Organizationsuggests that continuous innovations and improved efficiencies position algae as a scalable and carbon-efficient agricultural crop with the potential to decarbonise aviation. IBA commends the research being conducted on the potential of algae. As SAF is important in aviation’s path to net zero new and old feedstock must be investigated and sourced, therefore IBA will continue to bring these facts to the industry’s attention while keeping track of project FUELGAE.
IBA's ESG Consulting team supports with advice on sustainable finance, ESG ratings, ESG strategy and understanding emerging technologies in aviation. Our expert insight is powered by cutting-edge insights from our award-winning IBA NetZero aviation emissions reporting platform.