Candelaria Bergero, University of California, Irvine – How Our Airplanes Can Achieve Net-Zero Emissions

On this Student Spotlight during University of California, Irvine Week:  Reducing carbon from transportation is key to our future.

Candelaria Bergero, Ph. D. student in Earth system science, examines how to cut emissions from one form of transport.

Candelaria Bergero is a Ph.D. student in Earth System science at the University of California, Irvine. She was born in  Córdoba, Argentina.  Her passion for the environment led her to study both International Relations and Political Science at the Universidad Católica Argentina. She then decided to pursue a master’s in Environmental Sciences at Emory University, followed by a Ph.D in Earth System Science. Her goal is to understand how we can achieve net-zero emissions world and what are the implications for people.

How Our Airplanes Can Achieve Net-Zero Emissions

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the aviation industry suffered greatly. No one was flying anywhere, and more people were becoming aware of how damaging utilizing airplanes is for the environment.  

Besides consumers, governments from around the world started talking about this issue. During last year’s United Nations Climate Change Conference, many leaders pledged to achieve net-zero emissions and to work on decarbonizing methods of transportation.

As an Earth System scientist, I wanted to know how realistic these pledges were and how the aviation sector fit into these goals. My team and I used recent data to assess nine possible pathways to achieve net-zero direct emissions from aviation. These include changes and trade-offs in demand, energy efficiency, propulsion systems, alternative fuels for both passenger and freight transport and compensatory carbon removals.

Through this analysis, we found that ambitious reductions in demand for air transport and improvements in the energy efficiency of aircraft might avoid up to 61%, respectively, of projected business-as-usual aviation emissions in 2050.

However, the non-CO2 effects from the airplanes present another challenge. To reduce these effects, hundreds of millions of tons of direct carbon dioxide from the air will need to be removed. This task is not an easy one as removing this much carbon dioxide is something never done before.

To further reduce emissions, the sector will have to replace fossil jet fuel with large quantities of net-zero emissions biofuels or synthetic fuels, which may be substantially more expensive.

While figuring out how to reduce emissions from the aviation industry may be a long and expensive journey, we are optimistic that through research, public policy, and climate action we will make great progress toward achieving net-zero commercial aviation.

Read More:
[Nature Sustainability] – Pathways to net-zero emissions from aviation