With initiatives under way across the aviation sector to progress decarbonisation strategies, recognising the complexity and interconnectivity of sustainable solutions – both within and adjacent to aerospace – is crucial. FINN was joined at Sustainable Skies World Summit 2024 by Professor Rob Miller, Director of the Whittle Laboratory at the University of Cambridge, to explain how the Sustainable Markets Initiative is helping co-ordinate a holistic mentality.

Launched in 2020 by the then-Prince of Wales (now His Majesty King Charles III), the Sustainable Market Initiative’s mandate (better known as the Terra Carta) sets out an overarching view of the way we perceive people, nature and sustainability, said Miller, highlighting His Majesty’s enthusiasm for the scheme. “Each sector has a tendency to just think about part of the problem, so his Terra Carta is reminding everyone that we have to think at this holistic scale if we’re really going to solve the problem”.

“Because aviation is such an energy intense sector, the way it decarbonises depends on neighbouring sectors, like shipping or the grid,” continued Miller. Sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) is just one example of where consideration of different sectors is crucial. With current SAF production pathways requiring a lot of biomass and electricity, “we have to understand the consequences of the way you take that from other sector,” he explained; stressing the need to make the most efficient use of limited feedstocks, “We desperately need to scale up production of sustainable aviation fuels, be we have to think about the right type of fuels, and we have to control the way feedstock is used”.

Since launching its first round table on aviation, the Sustainable Markets Initiative now has four working groups set up: one to accelerate “the right sort of SAFs, one to push transformation to a hydrogen aircraft, another thinking about non-CO2 events, and the final one to consider how to transition airports and infrastructure.

With a new Whittle Lab set (focusing on disruptive innovation) scheduled to open at the University of Cambridge in late 2025, challenges encountered within sustainable aviation are “very similar to the challenge Frank Whittle originally faced,” added Miller. Bringing together experts from across different fields, “we hope to cut the time to take an idea to demonstration from years to weeks or months,” he concluded.
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