Decarbonizing aviation: The roles of sustainable aviation fuels and hydrogen fuel

Vennela Mannava* and Leela Velautham

Edited by K’yal Bannister and Anuraag Singh

Review | Aug. 31 2023


DOI: 10.38105/spr.4z2j4tru9a


  • Aviation is a rapidly growing sector whose contribution to global greenhouse gas emissions is projected to increase substantially in the coming years.
  • Replacing petroleum-based jet fuels has emerged as a key strategy to decarbonize aviation.
  • Natural and synthetic sustainable aviation fuels are being pursued as a readier short-term carbon-neutral solution, while hydrogen fuel is being developed as a long-term carbon-free solution.
  • Policy solutions focus on support for sustainable aviation fuel production and uptake in the short term and hydrogen fuel research and development in the long term.

Article Summary

As the aviation sector is projected to continue growing in the coming decades, so too are its greenhouse gas emissions and environmental impacts. Improvements to the efficiency of jet fuel-powered airplanes have dominated past emissions reduction efforts, but increasingly diminishing efficiency improvements now motivate the transition to alternative fuels. This article reviews two major classes of such fuels. Sustainable aviation fuels encompass a broad array of drop-in fuels with operational similarities to traditional jet fuel that show promise as a short-term solution. Hydrogen fuel shows promise as a long-term, carbon-free fuel, requiring more technology development and infrastructure changes. This article also presents an overview of the policy actions undertaken to aid both immediate and future deployment of these alternative fuels toward decarbonizing aviation.

Open Access


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Vennela Mannava

Department of Chemistry, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, MA

Leela Velautham

MIT Climate and Sustainability Consortium, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, MA