Director of transport policy at BP sceptical about aviation biofuels
the panacea for carbon footprint reduction. High fuel costs as well as competing
demand make it unlikely that biojet will deliver the promised CO2 reductions within
a desired timeframe. It is unclear even how the targets for road transport biodiesel
will be met. Many biofuels have a carbon footprint not much better than fossil
fuels, even without indirect land use impact.
When it comes to operating airliners with a biofuel blend, it is becoming difficult
to find a name-brand airline that has not conducted a demonstration flight. The
problem is, it may all be for naught.
of others. All tout the carbon dioxide savings these flights—or in some cases
longer-running trials—are achieving.
are the panacea for carbon footprint reduction, at least for this decade and possibly
beyond. High fuel costs as well as competing demand make it unlikely that biojet
will deliver the promised carbon dioxide reductions within a desired timeframe.
is not clear where the supply will come from to meet 2020 targets, says John Cooper,
director of transport policy at BP. Availability of sufficient feedstock is “a
major concern,” he notes.
for the fact that food is not produced, the prospects for biojet are dimmed further.
Cooper fears that vegetable oil-based biojet is likely “a blind alley.”
to commercialize those is not far enough advanced.
sense for carriers to simply purchase carbon credits in an emissions trading system
(ETS) than spending money on biojet. At current prices, biojet use would equate to more than €300 ($410) per metric
ton of carbon, far above the ETS market rate, which is currently below €12. Airlines
are still betting on biofuel, though, in part to burnish their “green” credentials.
Commission-backed biofuels flightpath that has as its goal production of 2 million
tons of sustainable biofuel by 2020. However, there is some doubt that the cost
curve can change significantly. In the case of many technologies it is difficult
to see how costs will come down, Cooper says.
all the more troubling, then, that their involvement in the European Union’s emissions
trading system is so precarious. The EU’s decision to include all airlines that
land in or depart from member states is not just garnering increasing vocal opposition
from outsiders, but threatens to become a nasty international battle.
not want to see its total demise, because if this attempt at a cap-and-trade system
fails it might be replaced with more draconian measures, such as additional taxes, warns British Airways’ head of environmental affairs, Jonathan Counsell. “By
taking too big a first step, it is taking us backward,” he says.
Even though a European legal authority has deemed the system legitimate—a formal
verdict from the European Court of Justice and U.K. high court is still pending—opposition
is mounting. Russia is considering legislation that would bar its airlines from
complying, mirroring language proposed in the U.S. Congress.
opposing the EU policy before the International Civil Aviation Organization’s
council, where 36 members convene; 21 are signatories to the Indian declaration
against the ETS. The majority could force a vote and have ICAO formally adopt
the declaration, although it is unclear what the next move would be if that happens.
vote, fearful that it would expose deep divisions with the airline governing body.
good faith. Tim Johnson, director of the Aviation Environment Federation, believes the ETS is a good deal for airlines. He argues that “It would be a
lot easier for Europe to negotiate with countries outside its borders if they
had a credible alternative in place.”
actions,” warns British Airways CEO Keith Williams, adding, that is why “we are
lobbying the EU and member states to find a solution.”
Italy has already presented a proposal to the EU council—where member states rule—proposing
the measure be set aside until international issues are ironed out. The European
Commission and parliament would have to agree, with opposition from the latter
body seen as probable.
the carbon emissions airlines are required to account for in EU airspace-only
is again being considered.
a cap-and-trade program. Under the current approach, passengers flying long-haul from Europe have a higher
carbon bill when flying direct than connecting via a hub outside the ETS. That irks the likes of Cathay Pacific Airways, who believe the airline is put
at a competitive disadvantage with its Middle East rivals, which route traffic
via hubs in Dubai and Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates; and Doha, Qatar. Mark Watson, head of environmental affairs at Cathay Pacific, points out that
a direct flight between Hong Kong and London is 16% shorter than flying via Dubai,
but the carbon cost is 75% higher. Such distortions would be eliminated under
a viable cap-and-trade plan.
part because the court process will not have been completed.
goal of a global approach. ICAO is developing a standard for commercial aircraft CO2 emissions, to be ready
in 2013. As part of the process, using market-based measures to greater advantage is being
meeting failed to resolve the global controversy.
invokes a “de minimis clause.” This would exclude some carriers who hail from
countries that contribute less than 1% of revenue passenger kilometers. The measure
is an effort to protect aerospace in emerging nations.
from only 22 countries in the system. What is more, airlines competing with excluded
carriers also would likely seek exclusion on the grounds of a balanced competitive
The Air France demonstration flight this month between Toulouse and Paris, for
instance, generated a large part of its savings through improved operations, including
continuous descent approaches and optimized air traffic management. Those initiatives
are gaining traction globally, as are efforts to shorten flight routes.
to be sought, perfected and implemented ever more broadly and quickly.