Techno-economic review of alternative fuels and propulsion systems for the aviation sector

Substitution of conventional jet fuel with low-to zero-carbon-emitting alternative aviation fuels is vital for meeting the climate targets for aviation. It is important to understand the technical, environmental, and eco-nomic performance of alternative aviation fuels and prospective engine and propulsion technologies for future aircraft. This study reviews alternative fuels and propulsion systems, focusing on costs and technical maturity, and presents conceptual aircraft designs for different aviation fuels.

The cost review includes minimum jet fuel selling price (MJFSP) for alternative aviation fuels. Direct operating cost (DOC) is estimated based on the con-ceptual aircraft designs and the reviewed MJFSP. The DOCs for bio-jet fuel (5.0–9.2 US cent per passenger- kilometer (¢/PAX/km)), fossil and renewable liquefied hydrogen (5.9–10.1 and 8.1–23.9 ¢/PAX/km, respec-tively), and electro-methane and electro-jet fuel (5.6–16.7 and 9.2–23.7 ¢/PAX/km, respectively) are higher than for conventional jet fuel (3.9–4.8 ¢/PAX/km) and liquefied natural gas (4.2–5.2 ¢/PAX/km). Overall, DOC of renewable aviation fuels is 15–500 % higher than conventional jet fuels. Among the bio-jet fuels, hydroprocessed esters and fatty acids (23–310 $/GJ) and alcohol-to-jet (4–215 $/GJ) pathways offer the lowest MJFSPs. The implementation of alternative fuels in existing aircraft engines and the design and development of appropriate propulsion systems and aircraft are challenging. The overall cost is a key factor for future implementation. Bio-jet fuel is most promising in the near term while hydrogen and electrofuels in the long term. The level of carbon tax on fossil jet fuels needed for the latter options to be competitive depend on the hydrogen production cost. 

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