The kerosene based and straw-colored JET A-1 fuel has alarming effects on the climate and air quality.
Is climate friendly flying possible? JET A-1, a commonly known fuel that is kerosene based and straw-colored, is mostly used in most big airplanes. It has been in use for a long time now and is hard to replace now. Loaded with a huge amount of energy, it contains more than 60 times more energy stored in lithium-ion batteries that are used to power EVs. But one most potent thing is that it has alarming effects on the climate and air quality.
Considering the devastating impact of carbon-based fuels, the aviation industry has climbed on board to reduce the carbon emissions to get rid of the carbon and reduce its damage to the environment. But since they cannot replace the fuel, the aviation industry has pledged to make up for the damages elsewhere by planting more trees, being part of activities to preserve and restore the ecosystems, or restoring the wetlands. But in real-time, all these measures happen to miss the most important part out. The surprising reality is that most of the global-warming effects are not just because of the carbon emission.
What happens when Jet Fuel burns at an altitude of 35000 feet
When the jet fuel burns at an altitude of 35000 feet, it creates a spark of a molecular cascade in the tropospheric layer. The initial spark of combustion releases a shower of particles that releases a great amount of soot, sulfur, nitrogen dioxide, and water vapors. At these frosty heights, some of the particles become a nucleus, around which the condensation drops gather and instantly freeze, creating puffy contrails. These particles then either vanish or continue to exist as wispy and high-altitude unusual clouds. Together with rays from the sun, these molecules of nitrogen start a chain reaction that produces the ozone and destructs free-roaming methane present in the atmosphere.
This is a confusing phenomenon if we take a look at the chemistry of these events. Many of these unusual reactions, for instance, methane destruction, have a cooling effect on the Earth. While other reactions make leave the Earth warmer. To pinpoint, it all comes down to the atmospheric conditions that differ for each flight. This has a huge impact when there are tens of thousands of such instances taking place across the sky each day.
3.5 percent of the Global Warming from the Aviation Industry
On the whole, the warming effects add up when taken a look at collectively. A team of international researchers published research last year stating that 3.5 percent of the total global warming in 2011 was from the aviation industry alone. It may sound small but the number is escalating at an alarming rate. The researchers established that the aviation industry causes nearly two-thirds of the warming effects caused by aviation due to factors other than the carbon emission in the atmosphere. The scientists, therefore, came to the conclusion that only having a carbon neutral system won’t help much if we are to achieve the global temperature goals.
Nature Climate Change published a report stating all the ways we could use to avoid drastic climate change and save our planet for the coming generations. The report effectively stated the guidelines that can be used by the aviation industry including new technologies, low carbon fuels, and batteries that can be used as an intensive measure to remit or lessen the carbon contamination in the atmosphere. Off course flying less is the most obvious option to achieve climate neutrality along with lifestyle changes.
Carbon Emissions from Jet Fuel
By far, the aviation industry is focusing more on offsetting the carbon effects and removal of greenhouse gasses. The burning of jet fuel, however, generates tons of carbon emissions that in most cases are unavoidable. Avoiding these will need a good knowledge of how our existing fuel resources and airplane engines work. Airlines are already making such calculations and making their customers aware of what it reflects. The airlines in turn often ask customers to pay a little extra to allow them to make some amends for the contribution their trip will be made to the pollution and offer them to get a chance to plant more trees with their partner programs.
There is continued growth in the demand for air travel. The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) has put in place its programs to estimate the carbon emissions in the coming future and plan accordingly. But again, all the steps are being planned to cater to the carbon emissions and overlook another hazard to the environment.
Mitigating Harmful Effects
Is climate friendly flying possible? In one way, that is not even possible because it is very tricky to account for all the factors that are not related to carbon alone. The chemical composition at 35,000 feet is localized and depends on various factors including humidity and temperature. Another great uncertainty is the potential contrails of the atmosphere’s behavior up there is such great height. If the air at the time of take-off is quite humid and just about enough cool, they can hold up there as circus clouds. These are likely to have a net warming effect. Another important factor is the time of the day when the plane is taking off as the clouds reflecting the sun would keep the Earth cool. But they can also trap the heat, especially around night.
Theoretically, there is a possibility that some harmful effects can be mitigated if there is a little change in how the airplane is flying. If we avoid humid and cold air patches or simply take fewer flights during night hours. But there is a certain issue with the atmospheric models followed by the aviation industry which are not too good at predicting precise conditions along the flying path which can generate a risk of flight patterns emitting more carbon dioxide and ultimately yielding little success in keeping the environment green. But according to the experts, until we are pretty good at predicting these conditions, this step should be avoided to make things worse.
Reducing the Carbon Amount in the Air
Until these predictions are not good enough, it would be better for us to focus more on reducing the carbon amount in the air. Keeping our focus on reducing the carbon issues related to jet fuel, might still be our best bet. One thing for sure is that we are still a long way from having batteries that are large enough to have the required energy for a single flight. There will be some change required from the flight structure, essentially involving having lesser passengers on each flight.
Another possible solution can be to have sustainable jet fuel that will be derived from carbon dioxide-sucking sources, including algae and crops. This will surely bring the planes to be closer to a carbon-neutral mode of transportation as the carbon needed for the airplane would be taken directly from the air. But this can raise immense logistical challenges as these sources are not too scalable when it comes to their production.
Till all this is not put into play, it is best to just work on saving fuel. While we are trying to cut back the carbon factor, the airline should also be working to expand the usage of sustainable fuels by the year 2030. The airlines are working towards pulling a switch on the robust carbon removal to ensure that we achieve the carbon-neutrality goal by 2050. Southwest Airlines, in a statement, stated the company would continue to monitor research related the non-carbon dioxide and its potential investments in using more and more sustainable jet fuels.
Non-Carbon Effects of an Airplane
A good thing is that the non-carbon effects of an airplane across the sky are short-lived. This is mainly because clouds continue to form and fade and the molecules in the ozone are destroyed by the chemical processes in a few months. Opposite of the carbon dioxide emissions that continue to gather and accumulate in the atmosphere over thousands of years. This indicates that the efforts to reduce non-carbon dioxide will have an immediate effect on global warming.
The key point is to keep the use of fuel in check. Let’s face it, we are addicted to flying and the whole experience it entails, not to mention the ease it offers. The fun fact here is that only a small percentage of the population can afford to fly. Still, it is not easy to ask people to change their preferences and routines and it is certainly not easy to ask them to change their behavior.
But the current imbalance is the main reason for those who have the choice, to choose to either keep traveling according to their preferences and still consider the impact it has on the surroundings. This is a thing ponder for people who take regular holidays, abroad or domestic, and choose flying as a mode on transportation especially when they are contributing to a considerable chunk of carbon footprint. Europe has a very developed rail network that becomes a very good alternative way to move from one place to another. However, it is a fact, that trains might be sometimes more expansive than flying on some routes. China can be taken as a runner up when it comes to having good rail network while the US lacks high speed trains and has a lesser developed rail infrastructure, making flying the only option for travelling.