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How Realistic Is Reaching "Jet-Zero" for Flight?

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Jane Marsh's picture

Jane Marsh is the Editor-in-Chief of She covers topics related to climate policy, sustainability, renewable energy and more.

  • Member since 2020
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  • Mar 27, 2023

Green flight isn’t normalized yet, as there are still plenty of advancements before net-zero aviation is possible. The U.K. is trying to set a new standard to reach “jet-zero” by 2050. Some minds in the industry question if it’s even possible — with planes as fuel-guzzling and energy-depleting as they are, how could humanity drive environmental impact to nothing?

Each flight uses a tragic amount of resources, including raw material extraction, manufacturing, supply chains and flying with countless passengers daily. Will humans ever be able to fly without bearing an additional carbon carry-on?

The Complexity of Sustainable Aviation

Jet-zero has numerous moving parts, from sustainable fuel alternatives to the more nebulous influencing of customer behaviors. It could mean analyzing food waste, recycling and flight frequency.

The most prominent hurdle is fuel consumption. Options like biofuel or synthetics could monopolize a nation’s existing farmland beyond reason or require infrastructure overhauls that cannot happen in short time frames to meet demand. Operational efficiency and general incompatibility are other concerns. However, additional priorities include supporting industrial changes that further develop zero-emission aircraft.

Creative solutions like mixing green fuel into kerosene are a more likely transition until other suggestions become more viable. Plane ticket sales will rise exponentially as remote and nomadic lifestyles become the norm and stressed workers reclaim their leisure due to movements like the great resignation.

The Considerations for Flight Demand

The proposal continues a necessary conversation into sustainable aviation. However, there are more nuances than using green fuel and investing in development. The realism of jet-zero is compromised due to its dependence on untested technologies in their infancy.

Many advancements for net-zero flight are in the early stages of development, and rapid installation — assuming they perform to standard — will pose scaling challenges. The plan doesn’t intend to reduce any aspect of aviation, so it will be even more of an uphill battle. Coasting to that 2050 deadline would be more reasonable if humanity already had foundational green aviation tech.

Nations must look to customers to reduce demand to adjust for scaling problems. However, there is no incentive for flight companies to advocate for this when the U.K. plan suggests no need to oppose aviation expansion. The Climate Change Committee finds this an impossible balance to strike.

Strategies like this would put enterprises in an unwelcome position of intentionally reducing income when business is booming for the environment’s sake. How likely are airlines to use marketing funds for self-sabotage, encouraging customers to fly less until green flight becomes the norm? These efforts would include dissuading luxury solo flights and minimizing first-class amenities. In short, it’s unlikely. Green aviation would have to advance as swiftly as industry expansion.

The Other Ways Flights Become Greener

Making more efficient airplanes, using green fuel and changing customer behaviors are three significant ways to shape a more eco-conscious sector. However, these new proposals ignore numerous aspects of green flight that could help the industry even more.

Some are company-controlled and some are nationally regulated possibilities:

  • Having a minimum seat requirement so mostly empty flights don’t waste fuel
  • Setting carbon trading arrangements to cap carbon emissions from flights
  • Regulating supply chains for airline food and materials for corporate social responsibility
  • Educating flyers on eco-friendly flying tips like using rideshares to get to airports and traveling light to put less weight on the plane
  • Investing in research for technological supplements to green fuel, such as plane solar panels or lithium-ion batteries that release nontoxic fumes into the atmosphere

The impact of planes isn’t just carbon dioxide emissions. Environmentalists, engineers and aviation experts have a lot to improve in numerous areas before the sector becomes net-zero.

Managing Expectations for Jet-Zero

Citizens worldwide are looking to Europe’s new guidelines for net-zero flights, begging for solutions to travel guilt-free and, hopefully, manage flight prices. Despite prospects to achieve massive strides by 2050, the plan suggests a potential for reduction instead of jet-zero.

Juggling new technologies alongside flight demand and other ignored environmental facets of net-zero aviation make it a demanding goal to reach. It’s possible if innovators discover solutions soon, but climate experts remain skeptical.

Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Mar 27, 2023

This is a fascinating journey to watch-- it seems because of how difficult the problem is, the aviation industry has more grace, but it will be an essential one to decarbonize, no doubt. 

Jim Stack's picture
Jim Stack on Mar 29, 2023

Yes producing JET in the Zero is not very close. But even safer and available now is the super efficient Hyper Loop being built in many areas right now. It is as fast as a big air flying JET but runs in a air tight tube with no air drag so it uses less than one tenth the ennergy. It runs i=on clean electricity and can't fall out of the sky or hit anything while traveling at 700 mph. This outside the box and we are already at ZERO for mass transit at high speeds. 

Charles  Forsberg's picture
Charles Forsberg on Mar 31, 2023

Based on a series of workshops and studies, cellulosic hydrocarbon biofuels have the capability to replace all crude oil without major impacts on food and fiber prices and negative carbon emissions. The belief system that biofuels can’t replace liquid fuels is based on the campfire model of liquid biofuels where it is assumed that the biomass feedstock: (1) provides the carbon to remove the 40% by weight oxygen in the raw biomass as carbon dioxide, (2) provides process energy to operate the system and (3) provides the energy that produces the extra hydrogen required to convert the carbon into hydrocarbon fuels. If one adds massive external heat and hydrogen to the biofuels conversion processes, there is sufficient cellulosic biomass. The semi-technical paper below provides the details and has the detailed references.


C. W. Forsberg and B. Dale, “Can large integrated refineries replace all crude oil with cellulosic feedstocks for drop-in hydrocarbon biofuels?”, Hydrocarbon Processing, January 2023. Can large integrated refineries replace all crude oil with cellulosic feedstocks for drop-in hydrocarbon biofuels? (


The economic low-carbon option is to provide nuclear heat at the refinery (like Dow/X-Energy) and hydrogen from natural gas with CO2 sequestration. If cheap natural gas and good sequestration sites, blue hydrogen from natural gas is the lowest cost option. The quantities of hydrogen are absolutely massive and are the primary cost of the liquid biofuels—biomass feedstock is the second largest cost. The system creates a carbon char that recycles nutrients to the soil while creating negative carbon emissions. The negative emissions of this step assures that the total system is carbon negative; that is, we remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. It’s time to leave the 100,000-year-old campfire bioenergy belief system and adopt a chemical engineering strategy that views biomass first as a carbon source to make gasoline, diesel and jet fuel and only secondary an energy source.


Charles Forsberg

Jane Marsh's picture
Thank Jane for the Post!
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