Ryanair CEO worries about robust jet fuel and food prices

Ryanair’s CEO acknowledged the need for ambitious aviation fuel sustainability goals, and raised concerns about how this might affect food prices.

During a discussion on CNBC’s Sustainable Futures Forum on Wednesday, Michael O’Leary said his firm is investing “a lot of money” from Trinity College Dublin in research on sustainable aviation fuel, or SAF. In April, both organizations opened an aviation environmental research center with a donation of € 1.5 million ($ 1.75 million) from the airline.

In addition to the SAF, the center will look at noise maps and zero-carbon propulsion for aircraft.

Ryanair itself has set a goal to provide 12.5% ​​of its flights with SAF by 2030. But speaking to CNBC’s Steve Sedgwick, O’Leary said he thought it was “a very ambitious goal – I’m not sure we’ll be successful.” there.”

He went on to express his feelings about the broader implications of the increased use of SAF. “I’m really worried about sustainable aviation fuel in the long run … what is the impact on food prices?”

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“I think we are going to reach a point in the next 10 or 20 years where there will be problems not only in the aviation industry, but in the industry as a whole, in relation to sustainable aviation fuels, where this can have a positive impact on food. Prices. “

While the European Union Aviation Safety Agency states that there is “no internationally agreed definition” of environmentally sound aviation fuel, the general idea is that it can be used to reduce aircraft emissions.

Airplane manufacturer Airbus describes sustainable aviation fuels as “produced from renewable raw materials,” for example, “based on vegetable or used vegetable oil and animal fat”.

Despite his concerns, O’Leary said he was confident that ambitious goals should be set.

“The European Union has set a target to produce 5% of environmentally friendly aviation fuel by 2030,” he said. “We think we can do more – I think we’ll get to 10%.”

“Whether we can achieve 12 and a half percent, I’m not sure, but I know that if we don’t invest in research and this technology now, we definitely won’t achieve it.”

Huge problems

According to the International Energy Agency, carbon dioxide emissions from aviation “have grown rapidly over the past two decades,” reaching nearly 1 metric gigatonne in 2019. This, it notes, accounts for “about 2.8% of global CO2 emissions from fossil fuel combustion. … “

Elsewhere, WWF describes aviation as “one of the fastest growing sources of greenhouse gas emissions, leading to global climate change.” He adds that air travel is the most carbon-intensive human activity.

As concerns about sustainability and the environment intensify, discussions about aviation are increasingly focusing on how new innovations and ideas can reduce the sector’s environmental impact.

For example, in September 2020, a hydrogen fuel cell aircraft capable of carrying passengers took to the skies over England on its maiden flight.

In the same month, Airbus unveiled details of three hydrogen-fueled concept aircraft, with the European aerospace giant saying they could enter service by 2035.

O’Leary was cautious about evaluating new and emerging technologies in this sector.

“I think … we need to be honest again,” he said. “Of course, over the next decade … I don’t think you will see anything – there is no technology out there that will replace … carbon jet aircraft.”

“I don’t see the emergence of … hydrogen fuel, I don’t see the emergence of environmentally friendly fuels, I don’t see the emergence of electric power plants, and certainly not before 2030,” he said.

“This will be so after my career in the aviation industry is over … but I hope it will happen before the end of our mortal lives.”

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