air-miles are left in the world’s fuel tank?
Statistical Review 2005, jet fuel consumption figures are obscured by being
“rolled-up” in regional statistics for “middle distillates”, which
include kerosene, jet fuel, diesel and fuel oils. To obtain a rough guide for
global jet fuel consumption, the US airlines consumed 18.5 billion gallons in
2004 compared with the US middle distillates consumption of 6087 thousand
barrels per day in the same year. From this it can be derived that roughly 20%
of the distillates production is civil aviation jet fuel.
Global oil products
amounted to 77,028 thousand barrels per day in 2004 extracted from 80,260
barrels crude oil at an average refinery efficiency of 96%. Middle distillates
totalled 27,741 thousand barrels per day and taking 20% of this and converting
the result gives an aviation jet fuel consumption of 2.0 Gb (billion barrels) or
240 million tonnes.
passenger traffic would consume 180 million tonnes in 2004, which with air
freight traffic taking up the other 60 million tonnes or 25% of the total, a
figure of 240 million tonnes or 2Gb, for passenger and cargo air transport,
excluding military usage seems a reasonable estimation.
In 2002 the UK
Department of Transport announced a consultation on airport runway capacity,
assuming that the usage of air transport will double by 2015 and triple by 2030.
This is achieved by an exponential annual growth in passenger air traffic of
4.5% over the period. An expansion of air traffic in the UK would match a
similar increase in international traffic. Domestic traffic in the UK and other
countries would grow to feed rising international activity. The department
concluded that airports should be expanded and runways built to match the
Airbus, the European
aircraft manufacturer predicts an annual global growth rate in passenger traffic
of 4.5% beginning in 2000 at 3.2 x 1012 passenger-km/annum (or 2 x 1012
air-miles/annum). If sustained this would rise to 12 x 1012
passenger-km/annum (or 7.5 x 1012 air-miles/annum) in 2030. The
cumulative passenger-km over the 30 years totals 200 x 1012
passenger-km (or 125 x 1012 air-miles).
Airbus forecasts an
increase in freight traffic of 5.9% per annum, rising from 120 x 109
tonne-km (75 x 109 tonne-miles) in 2005 to 440 x 109 tonne-km
(270 x 109 tonne-miles) in 2023 to around 500 x 109 tonne-km
(310 x 109 tonne-miles) by 2030, totalling 7,000 x 109
tonne-km (or 4,300 x 109 tonne-miles
over the 26 years.
over the 26 years.
About a third of
this freight is carried in the “belly” of passenger aircraft.
jet fuel requirement
introduction of the Airbus A380 super-jetliner and other fuel efficient aircraft
from Boeing, it is expected that the jet fuel requirement for a fleet gradually
renewed will reduce by 2% per annum, so that a 4.5% increase per annum in
passenger traffic and a 5.9% increase in freight traffic would result in a 2.5% and 3.9%
increase in jet fuel consumption per annum respectively.
This equates to a
consumption in the 11 years up to and including 2015 of 2930 million tonnes or
24 Gb of jet fuel and in the 26 years up to and including 2030 of 9370 million
tonnes or 76 Gb of jet fuel.
As well as military
aircraft, jet fuel is now used for armoured vehicles, on the basis that
battlefield logistics are aided by a uniformity of fuel for army helicopters and
tanks. The use of jet fuel for military purposes depends on the level of war
activity which has been exceptionally high over the last decade, but whether
this is significant in depleting the oil resources it is intended to secure is a
There is a reduction
in the yield of jet fuel from 25% to 8-10% as North Sea crude oil production
runs down and more Middle East crude has to be used. This means that the
proportion of jet fuel to other refinery products is progressively reduced
unless the refinery product profile is modified by installing additional
equipment. More fuel is consumed internally, reducing the overall output while
maintaining the yield of jet fuel, so a reduced refinery efficiency of say 91%
will apply from now as a greater proportion of Middle East crude oil is refined.
In 2004 global jet
fuel consumption was around 2 Gb or 240 million tonnes which comprised 7.2% of
total oil products. By 2015 crude oil production has fallen from a peak in 2010
of 30 Gb to 27 Gb, while the crude oil equivalent to the projected jet fuel
requirement will be 2.65/0.91= 2.9 Gb (or 11% of oil production), but by 2030
oil production has fallen to 18 Gb, while the crude oil equivalent will have
risen to 4.9/0.91= 5.4 Gb (or 30% of oil production). Demand for other oil
products will make the attainment of 11%, let alone 30%, of crude oil production
as jet fuel impossible.
synthesis of jet fuel from natural gas or coal will offer some relief, there is
no potential substitute for the bulk of the jet fuel currently obtained from
crude oil. In any case the remaining natural gas and coal will be required for
the myriad of competing energy-consuming purposes currently reliant on oil.
growth rate in passenger traffic of 4.5% and in freight traffic of 5.9% (in
accordance with Airbus forecasts) would require an amount of jet fuel impossible
Accepting that peak
oil occurs by 2007 and assuming that refinery profiles allow 7.2% of the
declining crude oil production to be processed to jet fuel at 91% thermal
efficiency, then from the 600 Gb of production of regular oil plus all other
liquids available between now and 2030, around 40 Gb or 6400 billion litres of
jet fuel would be produced. Assuming 25% of this is devoted to air freight, 30
Gb or 4800 billion litres would be available for global passenger traffic. An
average specific consumption over the period of 3.8 litres per 100 passenger-km
would provide 125 x 1012 air-km (or 78 x 1012 air-miles),
compared with the 200 x 1012 passenger-km (or 125 x 1012
passenger-miles) or 60% of the traffic anticipated in the UK Department of
Consumption of the
10 Gb or 1,235 million tonnes of jet fuel available for freight traffic from
2005 to 2030 would allow for 3,160 x 109 tonne-km of freight (2,000 x 109 tonne-miles) traffic
compared with the 7,000 x 109 tonne-km (4,300 x 109 tonne-miles),
i.e., 45% of that projected by Airbus.
In effect this means
that over the 25 years leading up to 2030, only around 60% of the passenger and
45% of the freight markets’ expectations can be fulfilled, though the fuel
deficit will be most evident towards the end of the period. Well before this
aircraft orders will be cancelled and the enhanced fuel efficiencies anticipated
will not be realised as the proportion of old aircraft will rise, exacerbating
the fuel shortages.
The UK Department of
Transport and Airbus forecasts do not consider the fuel resource implications
inherent in their projected expansion in air traffic. This unconsidered factor
determines that the growth in traffic envisaged cannot be realised as jet fuel
production will be unable to match demand. The higher the rate of depletion of
limited oil reserves, the sooner the collapse of the air travel business.
The building of
additional runways in order to satisfy a perceived rise in passenger air travel,
raises expectations that cannot be fulfilled. The runways at Stansted and
Heathrow, if they are ever built, will serve as parking lots for redundant
The demise of the
aircraft industry will be signalled by the progressive grounding of the aircraft
fleets, as a reduction in the supply of jet fuel will be the first indicator of
the end of the oil era.
Between 2005 and
2030 some 40 Gb (i.e. 5.04 billion tonnes) of jet fuel will be consumed. Taking
account of the refinery loss of 91% gives an equivalent 5.54 billion tonnes of
product with a carbon content of 85.8%. When burned it will yield 5.54 x 0.858 x
44/12 = 17.4 billion tonnes (or say 17 petagrams, i.e., 17 g x 1015)
of carbon dioxide.
John Busby, 29 June
Title page of The Busby Report