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Canadian airlines will pivot to sustainable fuels under new plan, federal minister says

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Canada’s aviation industry is betting big on sustainable aviation fuel, and plans to go from powering a few planes a year to sourcing 10 per cent of all jet fuel from sustainable sources by 2030.

The plan announced Tuesday by federal Transportation Minister Omar Alghabra, will require a massive scaling-up of sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) production, and will likely require new refineries to be set up in Canada to meet demand.

“Canada’s Aviation Climate Action Plan is a good example of how we can come together to set a net-zero emission vision and lay out the actions needed to get us on the right path,” said Alghabra in a statement.

SAFs, made by refining used cooking oils and other industrial byproducts, promise to reduce emissions from air travel by up to 80 per cent. Because they are chemically identical to petroleum-based jet fuel, they can be blended and poured into existing planes’ fuel tanks without any modifications to the vehicles.

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But supply is far short of demand.

Currently, less than one per cent of jet fuel is SAF and production will have to increase exponentially to meet growing demand from airlines as they rush to decarbonize their operations.

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Like the International Air Transport Association, Canada’s airlines aim to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050, and Tuesday’s report lays out a path to get there that relies on SAFs for the bulk of emission reductions. Even the most optimistic scenario, however, projects that emissions will stay flat until 2030.

Aviation, along with oil and gas production, is one of the few sectors of the Canadian economy where emissions are rising. While more efficient planes and lightened loads have gone a long way to increasing carbon efficiency, they have not been able to compensate for the voracious growth of flying worldwide.

Critics say SAFs will not be able to achieve the necessary emission reductions, which they argue can only by done by reducing the overall number of flights.

A single round-trip ticket between Toronto and Paris produces more emissions than heating an average Ontario household all winter.

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