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Airbus SAS is joining an effort by Quebec aerospace companies and research institutions to bring sustainable aviation fuel to market as the air travel industry plots ways to reduce its emissions amid a persistent environmental backlash.

The European plane maker said Thursday it will lend technical and certification expertise and make several other “in-kind” contributions to the Montreal-based SAF+ Consortium, a group of corporations, including Air Transat and Hydro-Québec, working on a factory for alternative fuel. The partners are on track to start producing the fuel by the end of August and deliver 30 million litres a year for commercial use by 2025.

“We know that … as Airbus, and as an industry also, we have a lot to do. This is really the start of the story,” Steven Le Moing, Airbus’s new energy program manager, told reporters. “We need to push on different fronts.”

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Aviation companies from manufacturers to carriers are trying to find ways to lower their carbon footprint as public pressure builds over rising air traffic volumes and the greenhouse gas emissions produced by flying. Climate activist Greta Thunberg gave up air travel and popularized a flight-shaming movement that took root in 2018.

Since then, U.S.-based Universal Hydrogen and other companies have been racing to find innovative ways to decarbonize aviation. Airbus has pledged to bring to market 100-seat airliners powered with hydrogen by 2035.

The development and adoption of sustainable aviation fuels is one avenue being examined, and momentum for fuel projects is growing, particularly in Europe. Airbus is involved with several fuel projects in different countries, each at various levels of maturity.

The SAF+ consortium is engineering a fuel called power-to-liquid, which uses captured carbon dioxide synthesized with renewable hydrogen. It estimates the fuel will have an 80 per cent lower carbon footprint compared to conventional jet fuel. Air Transat has pledged to purchase a significant portion of future production for use on its all-Airbus fleet.

“There’s not that many solutions to decarbonize air travel,” and sustainable fuel will be one of them, said Jean Paquin, the consortium’s chief executive. One of the key hurdles to wide-scale adoption of the fuel will be cost, because it’s more expensive to make than conventional jet fuel, he said.

Sustainable fuels can be three to five times the price of traditional kerosene, Mr. Paquin said, an estimate that reflects the fact the technology is actually recovering carbon dioxide emissions from industry to transform into a clean, synthetic fuel. That might mean government subsidies for the fuel will be required, he said.

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