Airbus unites European airlines in direct carbon capture from the air


LONDON, September 8, 2022 /PRNewswire/ — Yocova, an end-to-end platform for aviation innovation, reveals the latest on direct carbon capture from the air from the FIA.

Airbus and a partnership of airlines and air groups comprising more than a dozen carriers worldwide are working together on a new carbon capture project, with the aim of providing secure and verifiable carbon offset credits in the aviation’s need to offset some of its future emissions.

The partnership covers Air Canada, Air France-KLM, easyJet, International Airlines Group (the parent company of British Airways, Iberia, Aer Lingus and Vueling), LATAM Airlines Group, Lufthansa Group (including Swiss, Austrian, Brussels and the Eurowings brands) and Virgin Atlantic.

The methodology of Carbon Engineering involves direct airborne carbon capture and storage, or DACCS. At the base, powerful fans suck in air, process it, then compress it into liquid and store it in underground geological reservoirs.

The agreement is at this stage an early-stage partnership, based on letters of intent, and the airlines have “committed to enter into negotiations on the possible pre-purchase of verified carbon offset credits and sustainable from 2025 until 2028”.

This gives quite a bit of leeway, but is intended to cover a pre-purchase total of around 400,000 tonnes of removal credits. Airbus partner 1PointFive, a subsidiary of Occidental Petroleum’s Low Carbon Ventures business, will issue the carbon credits as early as 2025.

To give an idea of ​​the scale here, in 2019 British Airways alone reported that it flew over 19m tonnes of CO2 equivalent from Scope 1 emissions only, which the carrier defines as “direct emissions associated with British Airways operations, including the use of jet fuel, diesel, petrol, natural gas and halon. Sources of emissions include aircraft engines, boilers, auxiliary power units and land vehicle engines. [PDF]

That makes this deal about 2% of BA’s annual scope 1 emissions alone, and there are questions about how far this technology can scale, as well as how it’s powered and its own costs of unrecoverable carbon.

Yet commitment, investment certainty, technology discussion and even making an announcement at a major event like an airshow – with an aircraft manufacturer and even airlines – is part of a show of will that is itself a positive move as aviation strives to meet its net zero commitments. It also allows the industry to agree on certain options before approaching key regulators for approval.

Indeed, as Vice-President of Air France-KLM for sustainable development Fatima by Gloria de Sousa explains, “The letter of intent that we are signing today with Airbus embodies the collaborative approach that the aeronautics industry has initiated to find effective solutions that meet the challenge of our environmental transition. It is only together that we can deal with the climate emergency.”

Yocova had the opportunity to interview executives from Airbus, airlines and their carbon capture partners, and asked Airbus’ marketing manager Stan Shparberg on precisely this level of concretization around the project.

“On a small scale, it’s proven technology. Now we need to scale it, and that’s what Steve and the 1PointFive team are going to do,” Shparberg told Yocova. “On our end, with our partners and our customers, we have to make sure that he’s recognized by regulators. So that’s where the coalition comes together to really make sure that we get his recognition.”

Shparberg tells Yocova that the plans are “very concrete, and the plant is supposed to be operational in 2025. So it’s not a very hypothetical discussion here, [or an] ‘If and when’. It is something that we have undertaken. Of course, there are a number of steps we have to go through to get to the end result.”

Standards, transparency and verification remain key issues

Yocova raised the question of how the program will be standardized, transparent and auditable with the President and CEO of 1PointFive Steve Kelly.

“Everything is taken care of, within the framework of the verification methodologies that [are] in agreement with the authorities of United States already,” Kelly told Yocova. “It’s really well advanced. Our understanding of the behavior of underground CO2 in underground reservoirs is very, very advanced: we have been managing CO2 as a business for over forty years now. So there is no problem with verification or carbon scoring.”

More broadly about verification, Nicholas Christiangroup leader of sustainability and environment at Airbus, tells Yocova: “I think what we need to develop is this verification to international standards, to establish a standardization system for the acceptance of DACCS, by defining sustainability criteria.”

While work is underway by the usual suspects such as ISO, there are key individual questions about this particular technology as it relates to carbon scoring and accounting.

“How do you assess, for example, the impact on the life cycle of the overall process? Chretien asks rhetorically. “Obviously you have this process that needs to be powered by renewable electricity…if you want negative emission in this process.”

Indeed, the week after the airshow, the British government announced a call for evidence on its open consultation as it seeks to create a policy framework for energy with carbon capture, use and storage.

“What we’re actually looking at – and that’s the approach also taken by the Science-Based Targets Initiative – is [that] we believe there is additional value in referrals because they are affected by nature. And we could look at these cuts as ways to really contribute to the net zero plans of the companies, namely Airbus and our airline customers as well,” Chrétien told Yocova. “But then, in this case too, you have to assess how this removal – because it is a reduction of CO2, outside the sector – could still fit into decarbonization plans or reduction schemes. If you look at the EU ETS, for example, in Europethe question will be, ‘how will this be handled?'”

These questions are further complicated if, as was raised in the discussions, some or all of this captured carbon could be turned into more sustainable fuels through emerging processes. And that is, fundamentally, the key to this project and others. Direct air capture is just one of the levers that aviation can and should pull along its decarbonization journey to zero emissions.

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