Carbon Offsetting: How Does it Work & Who Does it Help?

The term ‘Carbon Offsetting’ has been floating around in Business Aviation for a while, but what exactly does it mean, and does it really make a difference? Matt Harris spoke with three program providers to get a clearer picture...

Matt Harris  |  28th June 2022
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Matt Harris
Matt Harris

Matt Harris is Commissioning Editor for AvBuyer. He is an experienced General and Business Aviation...

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As the National Business Aviation Association made a bold commitment at NBAA-BACE 2021 to work towards “net zero” carbon emissions by the year 2050, and various other leading aviation groups joined them, projects and technologies are being researched and developed by various leading airframe and engine manufacturers in Business Aviation.

“Sustainability, including the mitigation of climate change, is one of the greatest long-term challenges the world faces,” notes Kennedy Ricci, President, 4AIR, an aviation sustainability company assisting stakeholders in private aviation to implement meaningful sustainability programs.

“Although business jets are a relatively small part of the problem, Business Aviation’s history of innovation shows it can play a big role as an incubator of new strategies and technologies.”

For the mid-term, these include the development of electric aircraft, while, in the shorter-term, there’s the promotion of Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF). Longer-term hydrogen-powered aircraft may hold the key, with Embraer – among others – known to be exploring concepts.

None of these provide an immediate, complete solution, though. The industry is several years away from seeing a battery installed in an aircraft that’s capable of flying the types of payloads and distances required by today’s Mid-Size and Large Jet operators.

And while Sustainable Aviation Fuel is a very positive step in the right direction, currently private jets are flying with up to 50% SAF blended with traditional fuel. Efforts are underway with the leading engine OEMs to certify 100% SAF blends in their powerplants, but, even then, there’s nowhere near enough SAF produced currently to fuel the world’s Business Aviation turbine fleet – and SAF remains a costly alternative to regular Jet-A fuel.

How to Make a Difference Today

While the industry’s top minds puzzle through these (and other) challenges to drive the industry towards its net zero carbon emissions goal by 2050, a simple, inexpensive option exists for environmentally conscious aircraft owners and operators who want to make a difference now.

Those wishing to compensate for their carbon emissions might consider signing up to a carbon offsetting program. While everyone within the industry has heard about Carbon Offsetting, not everybody fully appreciates the workings of the various programs offered – including how they help to fund longer-term industry carbon neutrality goals.

“There has been significant interest among Business Aviation industry participants wanting to address the concerns of their customers, employees, regulators and other stakeholders,” Ricci highlights.

“By making carbon offset credits and other strategies feasible and cost-effective, we can enable the industry to have a positive impact on sustainability while continuing its operations, even while development continues on new technologies that will make actual aircraft operations far more carbon-efficient, or even carbon-free.”

Simply put, a carbon ‘offset’ is the ‘capture’ of a metric ton of CO2 from the Earth’s atmosphere. An independent, ICAO-approved verifying body certifies the emission reduction, with each metric ton being assigned a credit ID number. Ultimately, when purchasing an offset, aircraft owners/operators purchase the specific credit ID number along with the right to claim its associated reduction.

When claimed, the credit is retired in the public registry, ensuring the reduction can only be claimed once. According to Ricci, projects must be verified regularly in order to prove reductions are real, and that the credits meet stringent offset criteria.

Different verifying bodies have different projects or geographic focus where they distribute the carbon offsetting fees. 

As an example, Verra and Gold Standard tend to represent projects worldwide, whereas Climate Action Reserve and American Carbon Registry are more North America-focused.

4AIR: Specifically, the rating system 4AIR employs has a four-part framework, with each level having “definite, science-based, independently verified results”, all escalating impacts on sustainability.

“The first level is carbon neutrality through offsets,” Ricci outlines. “The second is emissions neutrality, again through offsets, but expanding to cover non-CO2 emissions as well.

“The third is the actual reduction of net emissions, currently through Sustainable Aviation Fuel. And the fourth level is intended to promote further innovation by supporting universities and public and private research centers.”

According to Ricci, after its first full year of operations in 2021, 4AIR has signed participants including fractional ownership providers, jet card and charter travel providers, aircraft management companies, independent corporate flight departments, OEMs, airports, Fixed Base Operators, and even individuals.

“Each participant commits to a level in our framework and reports the relevant data. For instance, a fractional provider would report flight hours by aircraft type,” he explains. “The resulting emissions are estimated using a methodology consistent with the international aviation best practices.

“Each level’s fee is based on the fuel efficiency of the covered aircraft, so, as clients transition to more efficient aircraft, it becomes cheaper to achieve higher ratings.”

Pratt & Whitney Canada: Launching its Carbon Offset Service at the end of 2020 for business jet customers enrolled on its Eagle Service Plan (ESP) hourly maintenance program, Pratt & Whitney Canada has subsequently extended the program across all its engine types to include regional jets, helicopters and, most recently, General Aviation aircraft (turboprops) enrolled with ESP.

P&WC’s Carbon Offset Service is designed as a “convenient turnkey service for our pay-per-hour customers, who already report their monthly engine utilization hours”, says Francois-Etienne Rheaume, Senior Manager, Aftermarket Services. No additional work is required by participants.

“All owners and operators have to do is sign up for the service and they are charged on their ESP invoice, only when their engines are operated,” he explains. “Service participants receive an annual certificate confirming the number of metric tons of CO2 they’ve offset, based on their utilization.”

For its part, Pratt & Whitney Canada has established standardized emissions models for each engine, based on engine data it has as an engine manufacturer and service provider. Those models take into account operating conditions. “For example, we take into consideration factors impacting aircraft fuel burn and emissions, such as payload, operating conditions and environment,” Rheaume qualifies.

“Through our standardized emissions model, we offer participants a predictable service rate, based on dollars per hour, for which Pratt & Whitney Canada works collaboratively with South Pole [an offsets provider],” he adds.

Rolls-Royce: Announcing its SAFinity program in May 2021, Rolls-Royce’s program is a voluntary offset program.

“This flexible program combines carbon neutral flight with independently verified sustainability projects with a direct investment in Sustainable Aviation Fuel, aiming to further support and accelerate the availability and use of SAF in the aviation industry,” says Megha Bhatia, Vice-President of Sales & Marketing, Rolls-Royce.

With more than 3,600 business jets powered by Rolls-Royce engines in service around the world – and many customers being single airplane operators – the engine OEM has clearly developed its program for simplicity.

“Our customers know and trust us, and those who sign-up for SAFinity have a single point of contact for all services including sustainability through their OEM provider,” Bhatia explains. The fee charged to individual operators enrolled with SAFinity will be determined by the expected hourly fuel consumption of the aircraft, she adds. 

Carbon offsetting fees could contribute towards projects bringing safe drinking water to regions without

 How Popular is Carbon Offsetting?

During its first full year of operation last year, 4AIR reports enormous success, having facilitated more than 250,000 carbon-neutral flight hours, recording more than 80,000 emissions-neutral flight hours, and making possible more than 125 million carbon-neutral flight miles.

“That’s the equivalent of 262 round trips to the Moon,” Ricci highlights, adding that most of the early successes have been generated through carbon offset credits.

Similarly, Bhatia says Rolls-Royce has received an “overwhelmingly positive response” in the last year, since the launch of SAFinity. “This includes at events and at panels we’ve participated in – we receive a lot of questions about how owners or operators can join the program.”

While Rolls-Royce is still finalizing the development phase, Bhatia reveals that it intends to extend SAFinity to all aircraft, including non-Rolls-Royce powered aircraft. “We’ve created a straightforward program open to the complete Business Aviation industry, and we see ourselves playing a leading role in collaborating with the industry to reach net zero by 2050,” she says.

Uptake has been positive too for Pratt & Whitney, who note participants are predominantly business jet owners and operators, for whom the service was initially launched.

Nevertheless, the recent announcement that the Carbon Offset Service is being extended to GA operators came with news that JetFly, the world’s largest Pilatus aircraft operator, had enrolled all of its PT6 powered Pilatus aircraft on the service.

“We’re seeing an increased interest in our service as more and more aircraft operators and aviation stakeholders continue to raise awareness and adopt sustainable best practices,” Rheaume highlights.

Renewable energy projects, including solar and wind-power, are funded via carbon offsetting

 

What do Offsetting Fees Fund?

Generally speaking, business aircraft owners and operators opting in to a Carbon Offsetting program are likely to find projects close to their heart, providing the satisfaction of knowing their offsetting fees are making a genuine difference.

And often carbon offsetting fees have multiple benefits, including social, economic, and environmental.

“4AIR’s program is designed to use offsets as a starting point for achieving carbon neutrality, but recognizing that they’re not the end-solution,” Ricci highlights. “Offsets are designed to align financing with the most cost-effective, global CO2 reduction opportunities.

"As cheaper decarbonization options are achieved, offsets become more expensive and help unlock harder to decarbonize initiatives.”

4AIR: In the case of 4AIR specifically, participants can purchase credits that fund particular projects. For example, in the Chhattisgarh, Karnataka, Maharashtra and Rajasthan states of India, carbon offset credits are helping to finance a solar renewable energy project.

“This will generate enough solar power to replace more than 1.5 million megawatt hours of electricity annually,” Ricci says. “That’s a real impact in a nation in which 80% of electricity is generated through fossil fuels."

Additionally, 4AIR carbon offsets fund a project to protect 300,000 hectares of bonobo and forest elephant habitat in Africa, keeping the Congo Basin secure as the world’s second-largest intact rainforest, and as one of the world’s largest ‘carbon sinks’, helping to capture carbon emissions.

Participants can also opt for their fees to fund Ascend, a Florida-based producer of nylon resin, which has developed a technology that captures emissions of Nitrous Oxide (N2O) produced during the manufacturing process.

“With a global warming potential 298 times greater than that of CO2, capturing emissions of N2O is critical – and with Ascend’s technology, nine million metric tons will be captured annually,” Ricci explains.

Reforestation is a focus area of some carbon offsetting initiatives

 

Pratt & Whitney Canada: Among the global sustainability projects that are funded by Pratt & Whitney’s Carbon Offset Service are waste-to-energy and wastewater treatment projects where methane gas is captured and re-purposed, generating renewable energy.

In addition to achieving greenhouse gas reduction, these projects, conducted in America and Asia, provide employment opportunities, reduce fossil fuel consumption, and protect land, further enhancing biodiversity and the conservation of our planet.

“Without such initiatives, quantities of methane, a very strong greenhouse gas, are released into the atmosphere and contribute to global warming,” Rheaume says.

“As more and more customers procure carbon offsets, which have a fixed supply for a given project, project developers initiate new offset projects, contributing globally towards mitigating the effects of climate change, and towards the United Nations’ sustainable development goals.”

Rolls-Royce: As already highlighted, participants in SAFinity will see a share of their fees directly fund Sustainable Aviation Fuel production, significant volumes of which will be needed to achieve net-zero goals.

“SAFinity is one of the many ways to facilitate the increase of investment in SAF production and availability,” Bhatia says. “Every purchase through SAFinity ensures SAF is produced and pumped back into the aerospace grid for consumption.”

Additionally, nature-based projects around the world will be beneficiaries of SAFinity, helping reduce greenhouse gas emissions while improving the livelihoods of local communities and preserving biodiversity and wildlife.

“These projects are verified by independent organizations to the highest internationally recognized standards such as Verified Carbon Standard (VCS) and Climate, Community and Biodiversity Standards (CCB),” Bhatia explains.

“The contributions have had positive impacts on local communities by creating jobs, protecting biodiversity, improving soil quality, food production and rainwater absorption. 

Examples of the locations SAFinity is helping bring improvements are Cordellera Azul Natural Park in Peru, and Katingan Mentaya in Indonesia.”

In Summary...

Carbon-neutrality by the year 2050 is an ambitious target – but according to those working towards achieving that goal, it’s one the community is willing to get on board with.

“The positive response from the private aviation community shows us that it is willing to take the lead on decarbonization, accelerating practices and technologies that will advance other areas of aviation and other industries towards enhanced sustainability,” Ricci summarizes.

“As more and more customers procure carbon offsets, project developers create and launch new initiatives to help mitigate climate change and contribute to the United Nations sustainable development goals,” Rheaume concludes.

More information from:

4AIR: www.4air.aero
Pratt & Whitney Canada: https://www.pwc.ca/en/landing-pages-folder/carbon-offset-service-esp-maintenance-program
Rolls-Royce: https://safinity.net


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