Sustainable fuel blends could help airlines clean up their act

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Sustainable fuel blends used by aircraft may help reduce the impact of aviation on climate warming by producing less contrail cloud, concludes a study published in Communications Earth & Environment. The findings suggest that contrails from aircraft burning sustainable fuel blends could contain 50 to 70% less soot and ice particles compared to conventional fuels.

Aircraft contrails contribute to climate warming by trapping infrared radiation from the Earth’s surface in the atmosphere. Climate warming by contrails is thought to be larger than the contribution from aircraft carbon dioxide and nitric oxide emissions. Incomplete combustion of fuel compounds in  creates large amounts of soot particles onto which water vapor can condense and eventually freeze into , forming contrails. This is especially the case for conventional fuels that contain , known precursors of soot.

Christiane Voigt and colleagues measured soot and ice crystals in the contrails behind an Airbus A320 aircraft using one of five different fuel blends, which ranged from conventional aircraft fuel to sustainable fuels that are low in aromatic compounds. The authors found that contrails produced when the aircraft was burning sustainable fuel blends contained less soot and fewer, but larger, ice crystals, and that these contrails warmed the atmosphere less.

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