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ISSN 2753-7757 (Online)
Sun and Earth in space Photo: Adobe Stock
The UK government has unveiled new funding for pioneering new space-based solar technologies that it says ‘will help to cut carbon emissions, improve energy security and enhance the UK’s reputation as a science superpower’

Photo: Adobe Stock

The UK government has set out its strategy to reach net zero aviation and deliver ‘guilt-free flying’, while also looking to new frontiers and unveiling funding for space-based solar power innovation.

The new Jet Zero strategy commits UK domestic aviation to achieving net zero emissions by 2040 and for all airports in England to be zero emission by the same year. It also includes a plan for the industry to stay below pre-pandemic levels of carbon emissions through measures focused on everything from delivering system efficiencies to new technologies, with progress monitored annually.

 

Aviation is currently responsible for around 2.5% of global CO2 emissions. With the sector contributing £22bn to the UK’s economy and set to grow as it recovers from the pandemic, the Jet Zero strategy aims to provide the tools to help future-proof the industry. It will help develop the cutting-edge technologies and build the new infrastructure required to meet the government’s ambitious net zero targets, including a commitment to having at least five commercial-scale sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) plants under construction in the UK by 2025.

 

Six priority areas set out in the strategy:

  • Improving the efficiency of the UK’s existing aviation system, from aircraft to airports and airspace. For example, the government plans to improve fuel efficiency by 2% every year and is providing a further £3.7mn in 2022–2023 to support airports to modernise their airspace.
  • Increasing support for SAF by creating secure and growing demand through a mandate that will require at least 10% of jet fuel to be made from sustainable sources by 2030. Also, kickstarting a domestic SAF industry, supported by a new £165mn Advanced Fuels Fund.
  • Supporting the development of zero-emission aircraft, with the aspiration of having zero-emission routes connecting places across the UK by 2030.
  • Developing carbon markets and greenhouse gas removal technologies to drive decarbonisation and offset any residual emissions, including by enhancing the UK Emission Trade Scheme (UKETS).
  • Providing consumers with better information so they can make sustainable aviation choices. The government plans to publish in autumn 2022 a call for evidence on its proposal to provide consumers with environmental information at the time of booking air travel.
  • Increasing the understanding of the non-CO2 impacts of aviation, such as contrails and nitrogen oxides (NOx), exploring a means of tracking these emissions and assessing potential mitigation solutions.

 

However, some industry watchers, including Carbon Brief, warned that the government’s plans to deliver net zero aviation and guilt-free flying may ‘be a little premature’. It noted, for example, that the government has completely overlooked the guidance from its own advisers at the Climate Change Committee (CCC), who have made it clear that, for the time being, the only truly zero-carbon flight is the one that does not take place. Instead of measures to curb flight numbers, the government supports airport expansion and says it expects 70% more airline passengers by 2050.

 

The strategy’s reliance on largely untested technologies – notably, SAF and zero-emission aircraft – to offset some of this expansion, was also criticised by experts.

 

Transatlantic SAF challenge
The Jet Zero strategy announcement came as the Transport Secretary Grant Shapps launched the next phase of his challenge to the aviation industry to deliver the first transatlantic flight running on 100% SAF in 2023. Following a call for expressions of interest in May this year, companies can now bid for up to £1mn of funding. The government will announce the final successful applicant later this year.

 

The government also announced £273mn of funding to back new low carbon aerospace innovation such as solar and hydrogen powered aircraft, ultra-efficient wings and medical treatment carrying drones.

 

Intergalactic investment
Looking beyond the skies, the government also unveiled new funding for pioneering new space technologies that it says ‘will help to cut carbon emissions, improve energy security and enhance the UK’s reputation as a science superpower’.

 

Launching a space-based solar power (SBSP) innovation competition, the government is making available some £3mn of grants that will be focused on projects that collect the Sun’s energy using solar panels orbiting the Earth and can deliver clean energy, day and night, unaffected by the weather.

 

The technology has the potential to boost energy security by providing a reliable, affordable alternative to expensive and volatile fossil fuels, while reducing the UK’s contributions to climate change, says the government. 

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