The easy fix to air pollution linked to planes

(Transport and Environment, 28 Feb 2023) Jet fuel is a dirty liquid. But what if we could make it cleaner?

The impact of flying extends further than CO2 emissions. On top of carbon dioxide, aircraft engines emit other gases – nitrous oxides, sulfur dioxide and water vapour – and particulate matter (soot).  These emissions have a climate impact, commonly referred to as non-CO2 effects, estimated to account for two-thirds of the climate impact of flying. 

The bulk of aviation’s non-CO2 effects is driven by the aromatics contained in conventional fossil jet fuel. The combustion of these molecules result in soot particle emissions responsible for the formation of persistent contrails, which have an important warming effect. However, these effects are very short lived compared to the impact of carbon dioxide, meaning that tackling non-CO2 effects could be the fastest way to reduce aviation’s climate impact. 

Worse still, these emissions affect human health. The aromatics and sulphur contained in conventional jet fuel trigger ultrafine particle emissions, whose serious health impact is now widely acknowledged by the scientific community. Up to 33 million people living within a 20km radius of the top-20 airports in Europe are facing higher risks of high blood pressure, heart attack, and diabetes, due to air pollution induced by aviation particle emissions.

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Transport and Environment, 28 Feb 2023: The easy fix to air pollution linked to planes