Long-haul ambitions

LatAm’s sustainable aviation fuel transition.

Cooking oil is perhaps an unusual ingredient to pour into a plane engine. Nonetheless, that was all that was needed to get a giant Airbus A380 airborne in March. Whilst it could be decades until such fuel alternatives become mainstream, it does speak to a remarkable transition towards viewing sustainable fuels as viable alternatives in fossil fuel emitting aviation sector. Can we expect Latin America’s airlines to make this transition? Broadly yes, but it will take time and money.  

A director at Mexico’s VivaAerobus explained, “There is already a commitment from Mexican airlines to move towards sustainable fuel models with clear targets to be attained by 2050 and emission control. Thus, the sector is likely to adopt more environmentally friendly fuels, either by way of biofuels or ecological fuels.”  

“There is already a commitment from Mexican airlines to move towards sustainable fuel models with clear targets to be attained by 2050 and emission control.”

A director at VivaAerobus, Mexico

VivaAerobus is not alone. Mexican flag carrier Aeroméxico announced earlier this year, intentions to cut emissions by 80% through the use of biofuels on routes the airline has already piloted since 2010 and domestic and international flights where there is supply. In April, the region’s largest airline group – LATAM – said that it would seek to reach 5% sustainable fuel use by 2030.  

In many ways, Latin America is a prime area for sustainable fuel development given its natural resources and abundance of renewable energies. However, the lack of well-developed regulatory frameworks and logistical chains could hold the region back. In addition, there is no getting around the fact that the sustainable fuel transition will incur very high production costs. That said, the region’s carbon targets should give impetus to more governmental support for the transition.  

It’s not just cooking oils that can provide a sustainable solution. The variety of raw materials is wide and can range from fats to municipal and agricultural waste. There are other alternatives including green hydrogen which is highly efficient in generating energy and reducing emissions. 

According to data from the International Air Transport Association, sustainable fuel adoption could see a reduction in emissions of up to 80% compared to traditional fuels, and is the most immediate tool to contribute to sustainable mass transportation. “Fortunately, the supply of suppliers of this type of fuel is expanding, including Mexico’s CEMEX, which will make the cost of this type of fuel increasingly competitive in the medium term and a stable supply flow will be guaranteed,” the director at VivaAerobus added.  

“Fortunately, the supply of suppliers of this type of fuel is expanding, including Mexico’s CEMEX, which will make the cost of this type of fuel increasingly competitive.”

A director at VivaAerobus, Mexico

Latin America has the right conditions in terms of availability and quality and raw materials to develop sustainable fuels without needing to import them. According to WWF data, Brazil has the potential to produce up to 9 billion litres of hydrocarbon fuels from different sources such as waste from agriculture and the timber industry.  

In the long term, it is expected that aircraft will be able to fly using green hydrogen as a direct energy source; however, this technology is still under development and will require modifications to existing aircraft. Despite the fact that Mexico is a pioneer in these climate change mitigation measures, ironically with the current government not even the slightest pressure is expected to transition to sustainable fuels, these are not on the government’s radar. Which is unfortunate, because if ambitious green targets are to be met, the fuel transition needs to begin in earnest, and now.  

 

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