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Monday, March 9, 2020

Nordic Countries pursuing short haul electric aviation at COP25

It’s a flying Shame – Nordic efforts towards Sustainable Aviation, December 13.

I attended this presentation at #COP25 in Madrid which entailed a video hookup with a panel of people in Stockholm.

Attitudes are changing to flying, given the level of emissions it causes. This is especially the case from people who use an ethical and value-based model to drive their behaviour.

Biofuels are being investigated, but there are biomass limits to use of these fuels, and they do not address climate impacts at high altitudes. Electric short haul flight is a realistic possibility in the next 10 years, and the Nordic countries are actively pursing this.

Changing attitudes: Beyond flygskam

Much of the early presentation was on discussing changing atitudes to flying using the recent research by Maria Wolrath Söderberg, an associate professor in Rhetoric at Södertörn, and Nina Wormbs, Professor in History of technology at KTH Royal Institute of Technology, Stockholm. During the summer of 2019 they conducted a self-selecting survey that targeted those who had stopped or drastically reduced flying because of climate change and asked them to describe their reasoning The study was called Grounded – Beyond Flygskam.

From the exectutive summary of Grounded: Beyond flygskam (PDF):

Flight shame was hardly mentioned by the respondents. The most commonly mentioned reason to change behaviour was knowledge and insight. This insight occurs not just with the accumulation of knowledge, but in connection to a realisation of the problem’s urgency. This realisation can in turn come from personal experience of climate change and is often related to strong feelings and fear.

Respondents also stressed the importance of conscience and their ambition to be consistent. They want to do the “right thing” because they regard the climate crisis to be a moral issue and a matter of justice. This idea of justice is not only in relation to others, but also to future generations: “Why should my pleasures contribute to ruining somebody else’s future?”

The public discussion on climate change and flying clearly affects this group, whose social context is an important factor in their decision to stop or reduce their flying. They are inspired by others who have demonstrated knowledge, set an example or led the way. In many ways children are their beacons, but also their future judges. Support from family and friends is vital to any successful new practices.

Alternatives to flying, like taking the train, are also a way to change behaviour and can furthermore sustain a decision alongside other positive values. Other modes of travel or even abstaining from travelling altogether, are found to be increasingly valuable and desirable.

Sustainable Aviation: Biofuels and Electric aviation

The Nordic countries are already setting significant sustainable aviation targets. Norway aims for all short-haul flights to be 100% electric by 2040, and Sweden aims for all domestic air travel to be fossil-fuel free by 2030, and all international flights departing from Swedish airports by 2045.

Nordic Energy Research has been investigating sustainable jet fuels - biofuels - since 2016. The research on biofuels use - Sustainable Jet Fuel for Aviation - was recently updated in December 2019.

However, there is simply not enough plant biomass as feedstock to supply biofuels to the global aviation market. It will only ever be a niche solution. Use of aviation biofuels does nothing to resolve the problems with aviation climate impact at high altitudes.

Recent breakthroughs have come in the development of electric planes to assist in reducing emissions. Yes, first and second generation electric planes are already here, although they are small 1-2 seater aircraft with limited range. Third generation aircraft are presently in design and early pro-type stage. We are likely to see these certified around 2025 for passenger capacity up to 20 people and range up to 400km. Suitable for regional flights.

Nordic Innovation, under the Nordic Council of Ministers, have established the Nordic Network for Electric Aviation (NEA), to Accelerate sustainable aviation and the development of electric aviation in the region and contribute to collaboration efforts in Europe and globally.

Anders Forslund is CEO of Heart Aerospace, which is developing a 19 passenger electric aircraft - the Heart ES-19 - with a range of 400km, proto-type ready by 2022 and certification by 2025.

"Over 85 per cent of departures worldwide, 40 per cent of emissions are from short haul flights. That is travel of around 2000km." said Anders Forsland from Heart Aviation. "If we have a doubling of battery density, we can do these flights with one stop-over. This could have a really potential impact."

Electric planes also reduce fuel costs by 50-90 percent, depending upon electric source for recharging batteries. Maintenance costs also reduce by about 50 percent.

"So perhaps the big use of electric planes will be in new markets, perhaps in those countries that have a very under developed infrastructure." said Forslund, comparing electric aviation to the expansion and uptake of mobile phones in developing countries, jumping the need for landline telecommunications infrastructure development.

Long Haul Aviation will remain problematic

Towards the end of the session I asked a question on medium and long haul aviation, (at 52:50 in the video) which is a more difficult area.

There is a possibility for development of hybrid powered flights. This doesn't resolve high altitude climate impacts, but hybrid flights could reduce the enormous greenhouse gas emissions at take-off and climbing to flight cruising altitude.

We also know we have to reduce aviation demand, the number of flights, in the short term.

I came away from the session with some hope that at least in Nordic Countries aviation problems are being seriously looked at, with perhaps some technical solutions for short haul travel in the pipeline, while long haul aviation will remain very problematic in terms of emissions and climate impact.

Watch the full session:

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