Future Air Cargo Environmental Sustainability
Environmental Sustainability Overview
Between two and three percent of total air emissions are a result of global air transportation. As part of the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport’s (CVG) 2021-2025 Strategic Plan, the airport has set out to implement a sustainability management plan that expands initiatives focused on more sustainable business practices that would reduce consumption and waste.
(Source: United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). 2016: Finding That Greenhouse Gas Emissions from Aircraft Cause or Contribute to Air Pollution That May Reasonably Be Anticipated To Endanger Public Health and Welfare; Final Rule, 81. FR 54422. (August 15, 2016).)
Technology is being applied to traditional air cargo aircraft to make fuels and transport to/from trucks cleaner and quieter. At the same time, tech firms and freight companies are partnering to develop entirely new types of aircraft that can transport freight.
Sustainable Aviation Fuel
Sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) is made from renewable biomass (e.g. corn grain, oil seeds, algae) and waste resources (e.g. wood mill waste and agricultural and forest residues). SAF has the potential to deliver the performance of petroleum-based jet fuel with a smaller carbon footprint. SAF has shown to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in flight by up to 20% over kerosene-based Jet A fuel. The U.S. Department of Energy is working with the U.S. Department of Transportation, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and other federal government agencies to develop a comprehensive strategy for scaling up new technologies to produce SAF on a commercial scale, called the SAF Grand Challenge.
Cargo Hub SAF Adoption to Achieve Net-Zero Emissions
With its first Air Prime Hub at CVG, Amazon has a carbon neutral pledge to reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2040. To help reach this lofty goal, Amazon has begun to invest in SAF by securing more than six million gallons of low-carbon aviation fuel in 2020. (Source: Amazon. Carbon Pledge. (2023.)
With one of its three global superhubs at CVG, DHL has committed to reduce emissions to net-zero by 2050. The company has committed to purchase SAF through 2026. (Source: DHL. Sustainability: How to Successfully Scale Up Sustainable Aviation Fuel Solutions. (May 2022.)
CVG is interested in electrified regional aircraft that would make short trips between Cincinnati and other nearby metropolitan areas, such as Nashville. These types of routes are historically difficult for airlines to make profitable, given the shorter flight times and competitive roadway travel options. The concept would evolve CVG from aviation into e-viation. Adoption of this technology is forecasted to occur in the next five to 10 years.
Amazon has invested in Beta Technologies, a manufacturer of all-electric aircraft, and ZeroAvia, a company that focuses on the manufacturing of hydrogen-electric aviation solutions.
Belly cargo on passenger flights may be expected to be carried via electric aircraft as well. Several passenger airlines are exploring options to put into service electric aircraft that will include space for air cargo as part of their use for passenger flights.
In many cases Vertical Take Off and Landing (VTOL) devices are also electric and known by the acronym eVTOL. An added benefit of eVTOLs is that they operate in almost complete silence – a quality of life factor for our communities that freight modes of today cannot provide.
Beta Technologies’ eVTOL Aircraft Being Tested at CVG
Source: Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky Airport (CVG). (2022).
VOTL technology is already developed and being tested by many tech and freight companies. One example of this is Beta Technologies, which has developed an eVOTL with a capacity of 1,400 pounds and up to a 250 nautical mile distance on a 50-minute charge. Beta Technologies is working with UPS’ Flight Forward Division to test the eVOTL for the transport of time-sensitive deliveries in small and mid-sized markets that would typically fly on small, conventional planes. Soon, UPS intends to expand into new business models that serve more rural or difficult to reach areas with the help of VTOLs. Due to its ability to take off and land vertically before transitioning to long range flight, VTOLs can quickly launch and land from UPS facilities and delivery locations such as a residential home.
Recharging stations from Beta Technologies will be integrated into UPS’ future electric aviation system to support rapid aircraft charging during the loading and unloading of cargo. eVTOL technology is part of UPS’s sustainability goals to reduce greenhouse gases from its ground business by 12% and source 25% of its electric needs from renewable sources by 2025. UPS is slated to receive the first 10 electric aircraft for routine transport in 2024 with the option of expanding the fleet to 150 aircraft.