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Sustainable Aviation: Not immediate, but the Real Future - Experts Gather in Tampere last November

Credit: Tommi Käppi
Anselm Eisentraut (Neste), Mikko Viinikainen (Finavia) and Zita Baranova (airBaltic)

Globally, there are means to reduce aviation emissions, but changes are slow, and technical solutions require extensive research and development. Emissions can be reduced through various partial solutions, cumulatively leading to the European Union's goal of carbon-neutral aviation by 2050. Experts in sustainable aviation convened in Tampere to share knowledge and discuss opportunities and solutions.

The path to carbon-neutral flying is long, with innovations such as Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF) and alternative energy technologies like electric and hydrogen aircraft playing a crucial role. Collaboration, research, and investment are essential for global sustainable solutions to succeed.

The University of Tampere boasts a leading European expert in sustainable aviation, Professor Stephen J Wright (Industry Professor), who is also a consultant for the European Union on aviation and aircraft technology. According to Wright, green flying is complex, with no single comprehensive solution.

Neste: A Global Pioneer Finnish company

Neste is at the forefront of developing SAF. At a seminar in Tampere, Anselm Eisentraut (Head of Market Intelligence & Pricing, Renewable Aviation at Neste) discussed how the company is intensifying its research and development to mainstream SAF. Aviation contributes two to three percent of global carbon dioxide emissions, according to Eisentraut. Currently, SAF usage is just a fraction of all aviation fuel. Bottlenecks include raw material availability.

SAF is produced from sources like used cooking oil. Neste aims to find ways to more efficiently utilize waste or underutilized raw materials from society and industrial processes. Neste recently announced a gradual transformation program for its Porvoo oil refinery, planning to cease crude oil refining by the mid-2030s. The focus in Porvoo will shift to recycling and renewable energy solutions development and production.

Challenges of Electric Aircraft: Batteries

While ground transportation is rapidly electrifying, aviation faces challenges due to its high energy requirements and the limitations of current battery technology. Electric aircraft are becoming more common, but they are likely to be used for relatively short distances with small groups of people.

Sustainability Forum in Tampere

Hydrogen is also being explored and developed as an energy source for aircraft. Hydrogen fuel cells are used in vehicle and ship industries and are a familiar fuel in space exploration. However, in contrast to terrestrial aviation, rockets use cryogenically cooled hydrogen engines that operate only once and for a short duration.

The greatest opportunity for airlines is to reduce the use of conventional aviation fuel.

Air France-KLM Group is the world's largest user of SAFMaria Hagelberg (Sustainable Head of Nordic Air France-KLM Group) stated that by 2030, the group aims for ten percent of its aviation fuel to be SAF. The group is accelerating its transition to lower-emission flying by renewing its fleet and reducing emissions in every aviation process.

Meanwhile, airBaltic has acquired a new fleet. Its A220-300 aircraft consume about 20 percent less fuel than other aircraft of similar size. According to Zita Baranova, airBaltic's sustainability director, the airline is committed to directly investing the small SAF surcharges paid by passengers into the procurement and use of SAF.

Soili Varpula (KLM) was the moderator. With Soili: Maria Hagelberg (Air France-KLM), Anselm Eisentraut (Neste), Mikko Viinikainen (Finavia), Zita Baranova (airBaltic) sekä Stephen Wright (Tampere University).

Tampere Region Accelerating the Transition

Tampere not only has expertise in aviation but also supports businesses, for instance, by encouraging them to locate near Tampere-Pirkkala Airport. Business Tampere aims to promote sustainable flying research and development by providing active expert networks and a dynamic operating environment for businesses in sustainable aviation. Thanks to its skilled workforce and dynamic companies, the Tampere city region is an ideal place for research and development in the field.