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What role do Freight Forwarders have in air freight decarbonization ?

Air freight decarbonization is steadily advancing, and freight forwarders like GEODIS have an important role in achieving a sustainable transition of the air logistics industry.
Alexander Hoglund by Alexander Höglund
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The push for net-zero emissions in the aviation industry by 2050 is not merely an environmental mandate; it's a transformative journey that encompasses a variety of stakeholders, from airlines to fuel providers to goods owners. Among these, freight forwarders like GEODIS play a pivotal role. By analyzing and selecting the most efficient transport modes and routing for each shipment—be it air, sea, rail, or road—we can ensure that goods are moved in the most carbon-efficient manner possible. Looking specifically at the airfreight segment we can serve as a crucial connection point linking goods owners with airlines operating high-efficiency airplanes and producers of alternative fuels like Sustainable Aviation Fuels (SAF). We will take a closer look at this in this article.

 

A Dual Strategy to reach Energy efficiency

Modern Aircrafts for Energy Efficiency

One of the foundational pillars of industry decarbonization is reducing energy consumption by enhancing operational efficiency. Modern aircrafts are designed with advanced aerodynamics, lighter materials, and more efficient engines, which collectively improve fuel efficiency. For example, the latest generation of aircraft like the Boeing 787 Dreamliner uses composite materials that are lighter yet stronger than traditional aluminum, modern engines and advanced route planning resulting in approximately 20% less fuel consumption compared to older models such as the Boeing 747[1].

Use of SAFs to Reduce Carbon Emissions

The second pillar focuses on transitioning from fossil-based to lower-carbon energy forms like SAF. SAFs are synthesized from sustainable raw materials such as waste oils or agricultural residues. Unlike conventional jet fuel, the carbon in SAFs is derived from biomass that absorbed CO2 during its lifecycle, essentially recycling carbon already in the atmosphere rather than introducing new fossil carbon. This can result in a life-cycle greenhouse gas reduction of at least 70%[2], making SAFs a more environmentally friendly option.

Both strategies are vital for achieving the overarching goal of net-zero emissions by 2050.

 

Connecting Goods Owners with Efficient Airlines Through Data Partnerships

At GEODIS we are developing partnerships with flight data providers to access real-time data on fuel efficiency, emission levels, and other metrics for various airlines. This data will in the future enable us to offer goods owners a curated selection of more low carbon transport air freight options, allowing for well-informed decisions.

 

The Positive Cycle: Demand, Supply, and Matchmaking

The concept of a positive cycle is key to understanding how our evolving role can drive the aviation industry toward its net-zero goals. Here's how it functions:

Demand from Goods Owners

As awareness of the environmental impact of aviation grows, goods owners increasingly seek alternatives with lower carbon intensity. They are looking for options that allow them to minimize their carbon footprint without compromising on efficiency and without too steep cost increase.

Supply from Airlines

On the supply side, airlines face regulatory, commercial, and social pressures to reduce emissions. Investments in fleets with lower carbon intensity and alternative fuels are capital-intensive. Airlines are more likely to make these investments if they see a direct correlation between lower carbon intensity and customer choice.

The Matchmaking Role

This is where we come into play. By collaborating with flight data providers, we can offer goods owners a platform to choose more sustainable air freight options. When goods owners actively select flights with lower carbon intensity, it sends a strong market signal.

Incentivizing Investment in Lower Carbon Intensity

As airlines notice an uptick in demand for their flights with lower carbon intensity, they are incentivized to invest further in practices that reduce emissions. This could mean speeding up the transition to more fuel-efficient fleets, increasing the use of SAF, or adopting innovative technologies that further lower carbon emissions.

Through this positive cycle, we not only facilitate choices that mitigate environmental impacts but also help create a market dynamic that rewards investments in lower carbon intensity.

 

Using Cleaner Fuel: Amplifying the Adoption of SAF

Why SAF is a Cleaner Form of Energy

Sustainable Aviation Fuels (SAF) are considered cleaner because they are made from sustainable raw materials like waste oils, agricultural residues, or even algae. Unlike conventional jet fuel, which is derived from fossil sources, SAFs can reduce life-cycle greenhouse gas emissions by at least 70%, making them a more environmentally friendly option.

Scale and Demand for SAF

The adoption of SAF is a pivotal strategy in aviation decarbonization. However, one of the main hurdles is the current scalability of SAF production, which keeps costs high and limits widespread adoption. As the demand for SAFs increases, there is a need to rapidly scale up production to make them cost-competitive with conventional jet fuels.

Alternatives to Bio-Based SAFs

While bio-based SAFs have proven effective in reducing emissions, the sourcing of bio-based materials like agricultural residues and waste oils can become a bottleneck as demand scales. Therefore, there is a growing need to explore and scale alternative pathways to bio-based SAFs.

Synthetic E-Fuels as a Viable Alternative

One such alternative is synthetic e-fuels, also known as electro fuels. These are produced using renewable electricity to convert CO2 and water into hydrocarbons. This process, often referred to as "power-to-liquid," offers an opportunity to produce aviation fuel without relying on biological feedstocks. While still in an early stage, synthetic e-fuels have the potential to be produced at scale using renewable energy sources, offering a promising path towards the widespread decarbonization of aviation.

The Need for Scalability and Innovation

In summary, for SAFs and their alternatives to play a meaningful role in aviation decarbonization, scalability is key. This will require innovation in production technologies, significant investment in infrastructure, and policy incentives to make cleaner fuels economically attractive for shippers and freight forwarders.

Our Role as a Freight Forwarder in Boosting SAF Demand

To be a part in tackling this challenge, we at GEODIS have implemented a specific process and service. For the purpose of transparency, we calculate the emissions associated with each flight used for transporting goods. Based on this calculation, we offer customers the opportunity to balance these emissions by purchasing SAFs through a "book and claim" system. This system allows the purchase of SAF credits to reduce global emissions, thus creating a direct channel to increase demand for SAFs. By boosting demand, we aim to incentivize SAF producers to increase production, eventually leading to lower prices and more widespread use.

 

In Conclusion

As we stand at the cusp of a transformative era in aviation, we at GEODIS are humbled and energetic by the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead. The push for net-zero emissions by 2050 is not just another nice to have target; it’s a collective call to action that invites us to reimagine the way we operate within this intricate web of goods owners, airlines, fuel providers, and policymakers.

We believe in the two-pillar approach to decarbonization: enhancing operational efficiency through modern, fuel-efficient aircraft, and the large-scale adoption of Sustainable Aviation Fuels and their promising alternatives.

Our role as a vital connection point in this ecosystem is not something we take lightly. Through collaborations, data partnerships, and the fostering of a marketplace that rewards low-carbon choices, we aim to accelerate the aviation industry’s path toward its net-zero goals. However, we can't do it alone.

We invite our customers and partners to join us on this ambitious journey. It is a partnership based on shared values, a common vision, and the undeniable fact that when we work together, we amplify our impact. Together, we can turn the challenges of today into the steppingstones to a more sustainable tomorrow in logistics and supply chains. Your choices, in concert with our capabilities, can create a powerful cycle of positive change, making the dream of a low-carbon aviation industry a reality for us all.

 

[1] Calculated using EcoTransIT World

[2] SkyNRG - https://skynrg.com/sustainable-aviation-fuel/

 

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