Does low-carbon movement match the development of renewable energy industry?

This is a news from Bloomberg.

Airlines Pin Low-Carbon Future on Fuels Nobody Has Mass Produced

This article is about the challenges that aviation industry faces to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. After delegates from 190 nations debated a United Nations accord in Montreal that would cap emissions from international flights, aviation industry is required to burn less fossil fuel. Therefore, renewable fuels might be their future choice, and biofuels are “their best bet”, according to airlines and aerospace companies.

However, there are many difficulties about the supply of biofuels. Firstly, the production is far less than demand. The biofuel industry currently has enough factories to produce as much as 100 million gallons (378 million liters) of jet fuel annually, while fuel consumed annually by airlines is more than 83 billion gallons. Secondly, investments in biofuel, meanwhile, are at a record low, which are down 98 percent from a decade ago. Though some advocates for renewable jet fuel think the UN accord will stimulate demand of renewable fuel like biofuel, it’s not always easy to scale up biofuel manufacturing and deal with complicated technologies. Thirdly, it is easily affected by the prices of other major fuels, especially oil. Sometimes it is not airlines don’t want to use renewable fuels but the market pushes them to choose cheaper ones. The article says in 2014, the price of oil once decreased below $50 a barrel, much cheaper than the market price of biofuel, which led a jet fuel deal of biofuel to fail. Last but not least, biofuels might not be completely environmental friendly. “It takes energy to produce biofuel, and emissions from that process may offset gains from using less fossil fuels in the sky.”

This article gives me a glimpse of how hard to use renewable fuels in a highly energy consumed industry. It is not only about the technology, but also about the maturity of renewable fuels industry itself. And the market of renewable fuels can be easily affected by fluctuation of prices of traditional fuels. Will demand of renewable fuels like biofuels rise as they are more affordable than the high-priced oil after the OPEC deal takes effect? I am not sure. Besides, are some environmental goals nowadays a little bit unrealistic? As an expert in the article said, “It is hard for me to envision a long-term situation where the biofuel industry does not mature and develop.’’ There is a long way to cut emission of greenhouse gases, and we should develop step by step, while it seems we run too fast beyond capability.

As I mention before, this article does well about “how did this story happen?”. However, I think it can explore deeper about the effects it will have. From the case of aviation industry, it is reasonable to associate that other industries might also face similar challenges and problems since reducing emission of greenhouse gases is a trend. The news that India ratified the Paris global climate agreement this week reminds me its effects might radiate all over the world. Despite lacking views of “the big picture”, it might be better to use one or two persons’ story to illustrate how it will affect everyone’s life, which can be more accessible to readers.


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