CO2 Emissions From Jet Fuel



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Sunday August 11, 2019 CO2 Emissions from Jet Fuel - There has been much in the press recently about the Google Camp event held in Sicily at the end of July which, this year, was addressing Climate Change.  The big issue that was being banded about was that many of the politicians and celebrities attending the meeting flew there on private jets or arrived aboard luxury Yachts, and were chauffeured around town in Maserati SUVs making their carbon footprint huge.

The articles have a point although in all the articles I read on this nobody bothered to ask any of the attendees if they had done anything to offset their carbon usage.  Leonardo DiCaprio, who is often a whipping boy for the people labeling advocates for combating global warming as hypocrites, plants trees to offset the carbon pollution he generates..  Over its life a tree will sequester about 10 tons of CO2, more than enough to offset the trip to Google Camp.

Most people express the idea that travel by plane is very bad for global warming and while flying alone in a private jet is likely to generate large amounts of carbon dioxide,  I thought I would try and get an idea of just how bad it was to fly rather than drive.  I have to admit that this is not a rigorous scientific study so I might have this all wrong but I think this will give me a pretty good idea of the difference between the two forms of travel.

To figure this out I used the average car in the US which gets around 30mpg.  I then compared it to the most popular commercial jet on the market, the Boeing 737 while traveling from Los Angeles to San Francisco.  The assumptions are that burning a gallon of gas generates 19.64 lbs of CO2 while burning a gallon of jet fuel generates 21.1 lbs of CO2.  The road trip from  Los Angeles to San Francisco is 400 miles so a car doing 30 mpg will burn 13.3 gallons of gas for the trip.  This will generate 261.2 lbs of CO2.  A bit of research told me that the Boeing 737 burns 750 Gallons per hour.  Assuming a 1 hour flight time to San Francisco (it's actually a little less) then the trip would create 15,825 lbs of CO2.  Clearly the jet creates a lot more CO2 than the car.

But wait, the jet also carries more passengers than the car.  A Boeing 737 carries between about 130 and 140 passengers depending on seat configuration.  If I assume that the plane carries 130 passengers and there are 10 unfilled seats then the CO2 per passenger is 131.9 lbs per passenger.  That's actually quite a bit less per passenger than the 30mpg car with just the driver.  It actually is pretty close to the amount of CO2 produced per passenger if the car has 2 passengers.


Based on that analysis, if you  are going to travel from LA to San Francisco and you are driving a 30 mpg car alone, from a CO2 perspective you are probably better to fly rather than drive as long as the plane has at least 60 passengers. 


Of course this is just one case and if you travel by private jet in a Boeing 747 then you are going to produce a hell of a lot more CO2 than if you drove.  The actual amount of CO2 you will use will also vary.  The fuel consumption of the jet will be affected by things like how many passengers and how much  baggage they have, as will the mpg of the car.  Both might also be effected by delays.  For example the airplane sitting on the tarmac waiting for a takeoff spot while the engines are running, or the car getting stuck in stop and go traffic for an hour or being diverted because of road repair.


There are some things that can help this along.  If you are driving and electric car like a Tesla then the amount of CO2 generated will depend on the energy mix and here in California we are now getting to have almost no coal generation and lots of renewables. In the air, United Airlines now uses a blend of 30% biofuel in the jets used for the LA to San Francisco run which reduces the net CO2 produced by about one third.


So, how bad is it really to fly as opposed to travelling in alternative ways.  It will always be a lower carbon footprint not to travel, but in general, it is better to use public transportation where possible.  Even flying might prove to be a better choice if you  are travelling alone.

 If you want to comment on this topic, email me, but please include your Name, City and State or Country