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Costs of mitigating CO2 emissions from passenger aircraft

Abstract

In response to strong growth in air transportation CO2 emissions, governments and industry began to explore and implement mitigation measures and targets in the early 2000s. However, in the absence of rigorous analyses assessing the costs for mitigating CO2 emissions, these policies could be economically wasteful. Here we identify the cost-effectiveness of CO2 emission reductions from narrow-body aircraft, the workhorse of passenger air transportation. We find that in the US, a combination of fuel burn reduction strategies could reduce the 2012 level of life cycle CO2 emissions per passenger kilometre by around 2% per year to mid-century. These intensity reductions would occur at zero marginal costs for oil prices between US$50–100 per barrel. Even larger reductions are possible, but could impose extra costs and require the adoption of biomass-based synthetic fuels. The extent to which these intensity reductions will translate into absolute emissions reductions will depend on fleet growth.

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Figure 1: Life cycle CO2 emissions intensity of the US commercial passenger aircraft fleet operating in domestic service (black) and of the narrow-body fleet (grey), historical development (1970–2012) and projections (2013–2050).
Figure 2: Discounted marginal abatement costs for cumulative (2012–2050) life cycle CO2 emissions from narrow-body aircraft in US domestic passenger service.
Figure 3: Life cycle CO2 emissions, historical trend (1991–2012) and future projections (2013–2050) of the mitigation potential by category of measures.

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Acknowledgements

A.W.S. gratefully acknowledges the financial support provided by Stanford University’s Precourt Energy Efficiency Center. T.G.R.’s contributions are based on work sponsored by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) under Air Force Contract FA8721-05-C-0002. Opinions, interpretations, conclusions, and recommendations are those of the authors and are not necessarily endorsed by the United States Government. T.G.R. gratefully acknowledges support from the FAA Office of Environment and Energy.

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Contributions

A.W.S. led the specification of aircraft technologies and synthetic fuels, the development of the model, the analysis of the results, and the preparation of the manuscript. A.D.E. led the specification of the airline operational strategies, developed elements of the model, and contributed to the analysis of the results and preparation of the manuscript. T.G.R. developed the techno-economic characteristics of air traffic management systems, contributed to those of aircraft technologies and airline operational strategies, and contributed to the analysis of the results and preparation of the manuscript. L.D. developed elements of the model, including underlying fleet databases, and contributed to the analysis of the results and preparation of the manuscript.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Andreas W. Schäfer.

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Schäfer, A., Evans, A., Reynolds, T. et al. Costs of mitigating CO2 emissions from passenger aircraft. Nature Clim Change 6, 412–417 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1038/nclimate2865

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