Last year, a plane flew across the Atlantic fueled by fat and sugar for the first time, offering a glimpse of the airline industry’s future. One day, planes won’t burn petroleum — they’ll fly on a steady diet of fat, starch, sugar, trash, grass and the poop of a particular strain of bacteria found in rabbits’ guts, among other unfamiliar fuel sources.

At least, that’s the plan according to airlines such as American, Delta and United, which have set ambitious goals to zero out their carbon emissions by 2050. Airplanes, which account for 2 percent of global carbon emissions, are far behind cars and power plants in switching away from fossil fuels. That’s because it’s hard to design a battery light enough and strong enough to power a commercial jet with electricity.

So for now, the most realistic way to dial back the airline industry’s emissions is to have planes burn cleaner fuels, known as sustainable aviation fuels (SAF). The problem is there’s nowhere near enough SAF to meet the airline industry’s fuel needs. Last year, the United States produced enough sustainable fuel to meet less than 0.2 percent of the airline industry’s jet fuel consumption.

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Author: Nicolás Rivero, The Washington Post
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