Aviation fuel and future oil production scenarios – “Peak Aviation”

Posted on May 3, 2009

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A high point for any researcher is the moment when one receives a letter stating that the scientific article one has worked towards for many months has been accepted for publication. Last Monday we received this message from Energy Policy: ” I am pleased to confirm that your revised paper “Aviation fuel and future oil production scenarios” has been accepted for publication in Energy Policy”.

One year ago Emma asked if we had a suitable thesis project on energy systems that she could undertake. We suggested she study the impact of peak oil on the future of aviation. At the time we were preparing for the International Transport Forum in Leipzig and transpor fuelt was high on the agenda. It fairly soon became apparent that this was going to be an interesting piece of work and Emma’s thesis was given the title, “Aviation Fuels and Peak Oil”. The thesis generated great attention internationally and we decided to continue the work and reformat the thesis into a scientific article.

The IEA had just released World Energy Outlook 2008 and discussion about the climate meeting to be held in Copenhagen in 2009 were beginning to intensify. We decided to work these prognoses into the paper and the final result became, “Aviation fuel and future oil production scenarios”.

Abstract:

Most aviation fuels are jet fuels originating from crude oil. Crude oil must be refined to be useful and jet fuel is only one of many products that can be derived from crude oil. Jet fuel is extracted from the middle distillates fraction and competes, for example, with the production of diesel.

Crude oil is a limited natural resource subject to depletion and several reports indicate that the world’s crude oil production is close to the maximum level and that it will start to decrease after reaching this maximum. A post Kyoto political agenda to reduce oil consumption will have the same effect on aviation fuel production as a natural decline in the crude oil production. On the other hand, it is predicted by the aviation industry that aviation traffic will keep on increasing.

The industry has put ambitious goals on increases in fuel efficiency for the aviation fleet. Traffic is predicted to grow by 5% per year to 2026, fuel demand by about 3% per year. At the same time aviation fuel production is predicted to decrease by several percent each year after the crude oil production peak is reached resulting in a substantial shortage of jet fuel by 2026. The aviation industry will have a hard time replacing this with fuel from other sources, even if air traffic remains at current levels.

Airbus and Boeing assume that air traffic will grow by 5% per year. If they continue to increase efficiency as they have done in recent years then this will mean an increased fuel need of 3% per year. It is not easy to increase significantly the proportion of aviation fuel produced from crude oil by the refineries. If the proportion of aviation fuel continues at 6.3% of crude oil then none of today’s scenarios can satisfy aviation’s thirst, not even supply scenario 1 that is the IEA’s optimistic prognosis. Supply scenario 3 is the “Uppsala Giant Oilfield Model” and, according to that, there will be a considerable shortage of aviation fuel in the future.

It is interesting that Supply Scenario 2, the green curve (below) coincides with the politician’s desire for reduced CO2 emissions. I don’t believe that many people are aware that the decisions in Copenhagen in 2009 mean that we are currently at “Peak Aviation”.

Those that are interested can read more at the Global Energy Systems homepage.

Those that are interested can read more at the Global Energy Systems homepage.

(Swedish)

En höjdpunkt för en forskare är det ögonblick då man får ett brev som tala om att den vetenskapliga artikel som man jobbat med under många månare blivit accepterad för publicering. I måndags fick vi detta meddelande från Energy Policy: ” I am pleased to confirm that your revised paper “Aviation fuel and future oil production scenarios” has been accepted for publication in Energy Policy.”

För ett år sedan frågade Emma om vi hade något lämpligt examensarbete som hade att göra med energisystem och förslaget blev att studera flygets framtid och Peak Oil. Vi höll på och förbereda oss för ”International Transpost Forum” i Leipzig och transporter stod högt på agendan. Ganska snart blev det uppenbart att det skulle bli ett intressant arbete och Emmas examensarbete fick titeln ”Aviation fuel s and Peak Oil”. Examensarbetet rönte stor internationell uppmärksamhet och vi bestämde att gå vidare och omvandla examensarbetet till en vetenskaplig artikel.

IEA hade just kommit ut med World Energy Outlook 2008 och diskussionerna kring klimatmötet i Köpenhamn 2009 hade börjat ta fart. Vi beslöt att arbeta in dessa prognoser i arbetet och slutresultatet blev “Aviation fuel and future oil production scenarios”.

Abstract
Most aviation fuels are jet fuels originating from crude oil. Crude oil must be refined to be useful and jet fuel is only one of many products that can be derived from crude oil. Jet fuel is extracted from the middle distillates fraction and competes, for example, with the production of diesel.
Crude oil is a limited natural resource subject to depletion and several reports indicate that the world’s crude oil production is close to the maximum level and that it will start to decrease after reaching this maximum. A post Kyoto political agenda to reduce oil consumption will have the same effect on aviation fuel production as a natural decline in the crude oil production. On the other hand, it is predicted by the aviation industry that aviation traffic will keep on increasing.
The industry has put ambitious goals on increases in fuel efficiency for the aviation fleet. Traffic is predicted to grow by 5% per year to 2026, fuel demand by about 3% per year. At the same time aviation fuel production is predicted to decrease by several per cent each year after the crude oil production peak is reached resulting in a substantial shortage of jet fuel by 2026. The aviation industry will have a hard time replacing this with fuel from other sources, even if air traffic remains at current levels.

Air Bus och Boeing räknar med att flygtrafiken skall öka med 5% om året och om man fortsätter och effektiviserar som man gjort de senaste åren betyder det ett ökat bränslebehov med 3% om året. Det är inte lätt att nämnvärt öka andelen flygbränsle vid raffinaderierna och med fortsatt andel, 6.3% av råoljan, finns det inget av dagens scenarier som kan släcka flygets törst, inte ens supply scenario 1 som är IEA:s optimistiska prognos. Supply scenario 3 är ”Uppsala Giant Oilfield Model” och enligt den så fattas det ganska mycket i framtiden.

Det intressanta är Supply scenario 2, den gröna kurvan, den sammanfaller med politikers önskan om mindre CO2 utsläpp. Jag tror inte att många är medvetna om att besluten i Köpenhamn 2009 betyder att vi just nu har ”Peak Aviation”.

Ni som är intresserade kan läsa mer på Globara energisystems hemsida.

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