A roadmap for decarbonizing California in-state aviation emissions

This briefing assesses the contribution of passenger civil aviation to California’s aviation sector emissions and evaluates the potential greenhouse reductions that could be achieved through emerging aviation decarbonization technologies, including sustainable aviation fuel (SAFs) and zero emission planes (ZEPs). In addition, it assesses how current policies could be modified to increase uptake of these technologies.

The study finds that expanding the obligation of California’s Low Carbon Fuel Standard (LCFS) to include fuel consumed on intra-state flights would only expand the LCFS program by approximately 5%, although it wouldn’t necessarily send a strong signal for SAF production. This approach would burden other sectors with the cost of decarbonizing aviation with SAFs, but wouldn’t necessarily drive the uptake of SAF’s on its own. Furthermore, limiting the LCFS to obligating just intra-state aviation leaves a substantial quantity of emissions reductions on the table. However, despite these limitations, the LCFS can play a significant role in boosting the value for SAFs delivered via other, more targeted programs, such as upfront grants for new producers to offset capital expenses and additional production incentives. To avoid the unintended consequences of creating demand for vegetable oils in the aviation sector, this policy support can be ring-fenced for a subset of fuels with high GHG savings and with novel conversion technologies. For these pathways, the state could also guarantee a minimum LCFS credit value for SAF producers.

Decarbonizing aviation shouldn’t just me limited to SAF’s, and the LCFS provides a means of incentivizing alternative powertrains in the aviation sector. Based on existing methodologies for crediting zero-emission vehicles on the ground, LCFS could provide a significant value to the deployment of ZEPs by crediting them for efficiency and incentivizing every unit of hydrogen and electricity consumed. We find that there are several potential ZEP corridors where the distances and passenger capacities of existing routes could be replaced by hydrogen and battery-electric planes by 2035. Pilot projects to deploy ZEPs on these routes could be implemented via grants for charging and fueling infrastructure.