February 22, 2024

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Biden administration announces tax breaks for sustainable aviation fuels

The Biden administration on Friday unveiled the framework of its plan to achieve one of the most elusive goals in the fight against global warming: making air travel more climate-friendly.

The proposal calls for subsidies to support the development of so-called sustainable aviation fuels, capable of powering jet engines, from agricultural products. Examples of these fuels include biofuels made from soybeans, diesel made from animal fats, and traditional types of ethanol.

Senior White House officials said the program would clean up the airline industry while bringing prosperity to rural America.

But environmental groups and some scientists have expressed reservations about this The plan, which would award subsidies based on the scientific model that has previously been used to justify incentives for corn-based ethanol. Studies have found a gasoline additive It exacerbates climate change.

The new tax credits, created through the climate law signed by President Biden, are intended to incentivize the production of jet fuel that produces no more than half the emissions of a petroleum-based product. Each gallon of this fuel qualifies for a tax credit of up to $1.75 per gallon.

“The concern is that they will end up subsidizing fuels that require an enormous amount of land to produce,” said Tim Searchinger, a senior researcher at Princeton University. He said that in addition to ethanol extracted from corn, the new subsidies could spur huge new production of biofuels made from vegetable oils, with farmland currently used to grow food replaced by crops harvested to produce jet fuel.

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This, in turn, could lead to more deforestation around the world as land is cleared to fill displaced food production in the United States, Searchinger said.

Administration officials said in a call with reporters on Thursday that they are carefully examining such concerns. They said the agencies are in the process of updating the scientific model to measure the climate suitability of jet fuel, and it will be revised to take into account the impact of farmland emissions diverted from food to fuel production. Federal agencies plan to complete their revisions by March 1.

“The sustainable aviation fuel industry is a potential 36 billion gallon industry that for all intents and purposes is just getting started,” Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said on the call. “This is a big, big deal.”

Advertising is trending The complex politics of ethanol and biofuels in an election year. Subsidies for such products are very popular in some Midwestern swing states, and industry players are lobbying for maximum flexibility regarding which products can qualify for the new jet fuel subsidies.

Vilsack said the administration is eager to make as many fuels derived from agricultural products eligible as possible, including those made using emerging technologies such as “climate-smart” agriculture and machines to capture and store emissions. The effectiveness of such techniques is disputed among scientists and climate economists.

“There are those who argue that when you differentiate the climate benefits of your fuels, you should be allowed to take credit for the carbon that is absorbed by the crop and deposited in the soil,” said Mark Brownstein, a senior vice president who oversees the energy transition work at the environmental advocacy group. finance. “In theory, this makes sense. But it turns out that it is very difficult in practice to document whether or not this is happening and the degree to which carbon remains permanently stored in the ground.”

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Air travel is one of the most annoying climate problems. While they only account for 2% of US greenhouse gas emissions, they are among the most stubborn sectors of all. those emissions increasing As the travel industry recovers from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Unlike cars, jumbo jets cannot be powered by batteries. The huge amount of energy it consumes makes electrification possible only for small aircraft on short flights. So the industry turned to jet fuel, which can power existing engines but releases fewer emissions when burned. These products, which are typically blended with conventional jet fuel, are marketed as “sustainable aviation fuel.”

Last month, Virgin Atlantic made the first transatlantic flight powered entirely by sustainable aviation fuel. a company New release The flight was claimed to have 70 percent lower carbon emissions than a flight powered by petroleum-derived jet fuel.

But sustainable aviation fuel represents less than one percent of the jet fuel burned in the world. Currently, most of them are made from waste such as animal fat or French fry grease. But the supply of these raw materials will quickly run out as airlines shift away from oil to meet their climate goals.

The United States and other countries are striving to increase production of low-carbon jet fuel that can be produced on a larger scale, aiming not only to meet climate goals, but also to become dominant players in an emerging industry with enormous growth potential. Vilsack said 36 million gallons of fuel would be needed, more than double the amount of corn-based ethanol the United States produces annually. He said that this new industry will support 400,000 job opportunities.

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“You can do the math,” Vilsack said. “This is a tremendous opportunity.”