Constructing the legal framework(s) for the expansion of sustainable alternative fuels for aviation

In a broad sense, the objective of the project is to provide insights into international, regional and national biofuels regulatory governance. More specifically, it aims to frame and inform the debate surrounding the development of sustainable alternative fuels for aviation. Technological advances allow other modes of transport such as rail and road to increasingly rely on renewable electricity or hydrogen fuels. However, along with increased aircraft efficiency and improved air traffic management and short of halting the relentless growth in demand for air travel, the use of drop-in bio-jet fuels constitutes the only option for directly reducing emissions in the aviation sector. They are expected to play a major role in narrowing down the gap between environmental ambitions pursued by mechanisms such as the upcoming ICAO global offsetting measure and the EU’s ETS and actual aviation emissions up to 2050.

The objective of the research is to study the legal and policy drivers and constraints influencing the expansion of the production and use of sustainable alternative fuels in the aviation sector. It will delve into the various schemes that have gradually materialised at the local, regional and international levels and which respond to the need to ensure that bio-jet fuels constitute an available, economically viable and sustainable renewable source of energy for air transport. In order to arrive at concrete and relevant results, the project will undertake to conduct a critical analysis of the legal frameworks governing the full extent of alternative aviation fuels supply chains (from feedstock collection to end-use) in selected jurisdictions (e.g. EU/US) and for what are, to date, the production pathways that offer the highest potential. The effects of international (WTO), regional (EU) and national (US) trade-related norms on elements such as feedstock and end-product availability as well as on the application of sustainability standards will also be considered in order to determine to what extent such rules affect the ability of sovereign or semi-sovereign entities to effectively promote the expansion of bio-jet fuels. The study of specific cases will hopefully lead to conclusions regarding components in biofuels regulatory frameworks (or the lack of such frameworks altogether) which currently constitute bottlenecks to the development and uptake of alternative aviation fuels. It could, moreover, provide insights into the governance of advanced biofuels more broadly and potentially give rise to recommendations on improvements that can be made in that respect. Finally, the results will also inform the debate surrounding the reconciliation of environment and trade objectives, especially with regard to renewable energies and new technologies that require promotion through strong government-driven incentives in order to compete with their less-environmentally friendly alternatives.

The thesis will build on research carried out in the framework of an FP7 project related to the study of initiatives designed to promote the market uptake and ensure the sustainability of alternative fuels for aviation. It will critically analyse existing frameworks and adopt a de lege ferenda approach regarding the improvements that can be made in the chosen substantive area. Developments in the sustainable alternative jet fuels sector have been the result of public/private initiatives, aimed at pushing forward both the R&D and commercial-scale production stages. These have been and are instrumental in bringing about the necessary technological advances and ensuring production scale-up and have the potential of acting as effective regulatory intermediaries. New governance theory could therefore also offer interesting possibilities for developing the future governance of sustainable alternative aviation fuels.