Thomson Airways has put out a press release saying that it will be flying the
delayed first biofuel flight on 6th October. It was delayed from 28th July, (see
below) when fuel supplies could not be obtained in time. Also a position paper on
biofuels. Thomson, like a lot of other airlines, is getting a test flight with biofuels
done as soon as it can, hoping to persuade its customers and the government that
it is being “green” and environmentally responsible. Thomson is then hoping to have a flight each day using biofuel.
Position paper on the introduction of biofuels into the Thomson Airways fleet from Thomson
AirportWatch comment on the proposed Thomson biofuel flights:
Thomson, like a lot of other airlines, is getting a test flight with biofuels
done as soon as it can, hoping to persuade its customers and the government that
it is being “green” and environmentally responsible. Thomson is then hoping to have a flight each day using biofuel.
This is largely a PR exercise, possibly intended to show DfT that UK aviation
business is taking a serious look at sustainability, so they can buddy up with
the DfT in its development of UK future policy for aviation (aka more flights). They
may think it will help DfT sell the idea of sustainable aviation to sceptics.
They initially said they would be choosing jet fuel made from used cooking oil.
Now they concede that they need to use virgin plant oil, too. Used cooking oil
is is not a realistic option for more than a few token flights, as there are not
sufficient supplies of the oil, and these are already bought up and used for biodiesel
for road vehicles, and for a host of other terrrestrial uses.
There is no way that used cooking oil and tallow can provide fuel at sufficient
volumes to fly planes. Ask yourself – how much olive / sunflower oil do you buy
in a year, and how much do you throw away? Or how many chips do you eat in a
year, in how many deep fat friers? All of the available used cooking oil in the
UK is already going into road transport biodiesel and we import it from places
like USA and the Netherlands. There is no spare supply of unwanted used cooking
oil that the aviation industry can just plug into. It is almost all being used
The authors of the position paper ignore any ‘collateral damage’ from biofuel
production, such as damage to people whose land is taken to grow crops, or whose
livelihoods are negatively affected by biofuel plantations. Also the damage to
global biodiversity and habitats. This may be cynical or just wilful ignorance.
One would hope that the DfT are not so naive as to be unduly influenced by this
very lightweight piece of work.
Thomson are now considering other sources of jet fuel, including worryingly,
babassu nut. They seem to have have avoided mention of jatropha, which has not
had a particularly good press recently. Its star status has crashed remarkably
in the past months. And no mention so far of palm oil, which is by far the most
widely available and cheapest biofuel – which also causes huge environmental and
The Babassu nut idea is dubious. Although there are estimated to be billions
of such trees growing wild mainly in Brazil, they are low yielding and processing Babassu
nuts for large volumes of oil looks rather problematic according to this UNFAO paper at http://www.fao.org/docrep/X5043E/x5043E04.htm and an excerpt and more information on babassu below.
Of course if the biofuel industry want to make babassu oil work at large scale,
they will be developing monoculture plantations with similar issues to those growing
palm oil. The Babassu palm needs a tropical climate. The yield is probably only about
1 tonne of oil per hectarre, which is about a quarter of that for palm oil.
But perhaps the most worrying aspect of the Thomson / TUI position paper is its
lobbying the UK and other European governments, as well as the EU, for subsidies
and other financial assistance. They want subsidies for
for aviation biofuel research, for developing aviation biofuel infrastructure
for “biojet”and even a subsidy on the aviation biofuel itself. This would come
from the pockets of the taxpayer.
The also suggest that EU ETS money should be partly given to biofuel incentives etc as above. And they
want aviation to get a system like the road transport Renewable Transport Fuels
Obligation (RTFO) Order. Presumably with % aviation biofuel targets. These targets
are already providing to be immensely damaging, and ill advised in the case of
road fuels. Even more so for aviation jet fuel. This needs to be strenuously opposed.
Thomson do not appear in the least aware of the indirect land use implications
of using biofuels. This explicit commitment by Thomson to use biofuels, with
indrect land use implications, is yet another example of the lack of joined up thinking coming from the aviation industry. The DfT Aviation
Scoping Document consultation is a good opportunity to point this out, and clearly
put the counter-opinions.
Thomson Airways’ 50% cooking oil biofuel flight grounded after fuel delivery
27.7.2011 The UK’s first commercial flight powered by “sustainable” biofuels Click here to view full story…
has been postponed after delivery problems. Thomson Airways’ flight TOM7424 from
Birmingham to Palma was scheduled for 28th July. However, the airline said the
green fuel pilot had been scraped as a delay beyond their control during the transportation
of the fuel from the USA meant the testing process could not be done in time for
the flight. Will probably take place in September.
Thomson Airways website, dated 26.9.2011, says:
Thomson Airways – Sustainable Aviation Biofuels
Which flights will be using sustainable biofuel?
The first commercial flight in the UK using sustainable biofuel will commence
from Birmingham to Arrecife on the 6th of October. Daily operations will begin
in early 2012. Will you experience anything different during the flight?
Quite simply, no. This will be a normal flight for you, just one that’s lighter
on the environment.
What is sustainable aviation biofuel?
Sustainable aviation biofuel is a high quality jet fuel made from bio-derived
oil, i.e. oil from plants such as jatropha, halophytes and camelina or from waste
material such as used cooking oil.
Has the sustainable aviation biofuel been tested?
Yes, sustainable aviation biofuel has been rigorously tested to ensure that it’s
completely safe, and has been fully certified and signed off for use in aircraft.
*Given the high quality required of any fuels used in aircraft, the process of
testing new fuels is particularly rigorous. Through testing in laboratories, in
equipment on the ground and under the extreme operating conditions that the aviation
industry requires, an exhaustive process determines those sustainable aviation
biofuels that are suitable for aviation.
*In the laboratory researchers develop a sustainable aviation biofuel that has similar properties
to traditional jet fuel. The aircraft and engine manufacturers and other systems
suppliers then run compatibility tests.
*On the ground tests look at specific fuel consumption at several power settings from ground
idle to take-off speed, which is then compared to performance with traditional
jet fuel. Tests are also completed on the amount of time it takes for the engine
to start, how well the fuel stays ignited in the engine and how the fuel performs
in acceleration and deceleration. Finally, an emissions test determines the emissions
and smoke levels for the sustainable aviation biofuel.
*Once the lab and on-the-ground tests have been completed, the fuel’s ready to
be tested on aircraft under normal operating conditions. A number of airlines
have provided aircraft for sustainable aviation biofuel flight trials designed
- Provide data to support fuel qualification and certification for use by the aviation industry
- Demonstrate that sustainable aviation biofuel is safe and that it works
*During a test flight, pilots perform a number of ordinary and not-so-ordinary tests to ensure the
fuel can withstand use under any operating conditions.
*Boeing and Rolls Royce are completely confident in the safe use of sustainable
aviation biofuel. Boeing has already done several test flights using Rolls Royce
engines. In June 2011 Boeing performed the first trans-Atlantic flight arriving
from Washington State at the Paris Airshow.
What is the sustainable aviation biofuel that we’ll be using made of?
Sustainable aviation biofuel can be made from a variety of plant-based or waste
products. The feedstock that we’ll be using is used cooking oil. Used cooking
oil is a pure waste stream, and as such has high sustainability potential.
Why is sustainable aviation biofuel considered to be more sustainable than normal
Using a sustainable resource to produce a fuel rather than a non-renewable fossil
source means that we minimise our impact on the environment.
It saves CO2 emissions
Sustainable aviation biofuel has the potential to save as much as 80% of CO2
emissions compared with traditional jet fuel. Simply put, this is because plants
take CO2 out of the atmosphere whilst they grow.
It can create work in developing countries
There are many different potential plant and waste sources for sustainable aviation
biofuel, meaning that it can be grown in locations almost worldwide, and can therefore
create work and income for people in developing countries.
How is sustainable aviation biofuel different from road based biodiesel?
‘First generation’ biofuel, such as biodiesel, has been used for a number of years. First generation biofuels
are not considered to be very sustainable as they are most commonly made from
‘food’ crops such as sugars.
‘Second generation’ biofuel, such a sustainable aviation biofuel, are made from sources that do not compete
with food crops, for example camelina which is grown as a rotational crop, or
algae that grows in the sea. It can also be made from waste material such as used
You may have heard of a thing called FAME which is associated with biodiesel.
FAME is a fatty acid that can clog filters and isn’t allowed in jet fuel. Sustainable
aviation biofuel doesn’t contain any FAME. This means that we don’t have any of
the mechanical issues in aircraft that some people may have experienced in their
cars with biodiesel.
The fruits have a hard thick shell (averaging 5cm in diameter) which is difficult
to crack by machine. It is estimated that a pressure of approxi mately 1 tonne
is needed to crack the shells open. While mechanical crackers have been developed
their weight and power requirements have in general made them inappropriate for
use in Babassu growing areas. As 1 tonne of nuts only yields 120 kg of kernels
transportation of whole nuts to crackers has also proved impractical. In most
areas the kernels are extracted locally by hand. The National Academy of Sciences
estimates that this hand cracking accounts for 57% of the total processing cost.
(Anon) It is important that the seeds are dried before decortication. If they
have a high moisture content damage, occurring during the process, can initiate
enzy matic activity and cause rancidity in the oil.
Decorticating is usually carried out at home although some women do remove the
kernels in the forest. The fruit is placed on a hatchet blade or an axe and is
hit with a wooden club until it splits. The broken pieces are in turn hit against
the blade to dislodge the kernels. Most people can extract 3-5 kg kernels per
day and a good worker can sometimes extract up to 10 kg.
A small proportion of the kernels extracted (0.7 kg per household during peak
harvest period) is used domestically. The rest are sold immediately after cracking.
The UN FAO paper also states that Babassu production starts at about 8 years,
so if this is to provide meaningful feedstock for aviation this decade, large
scale planting would have to be underway already. It will take time go gear up.
It seems pretty certain that Thomson will source their babassu nuts from a Brazilian
firm called Tecbio, which has signed a cooperation agreement with Boeing, partners
in Thomson’s biofuel scheme.
And here is an article about the 400,000 women and their families in Brazil whose
livelihoods depend on bababassu and who are under serious threat from bioenergy
developments including by Tecbio: http://ipsnews.net/news.asp?idnews=104818
Read more »
Jet fuel can be made by combining two alcohol molecules. The aviation biofuel
industry can see there will be a time delay in getting fuel from jatropha, camelia
etc but it could produce fuel from alcohol faster. Some from corn or sugar cane,
as well as non-food crops and woody biomass. Aviation accounts for 12% of the
fuel used by the entire transport sector. Global aviation fuel demand may reach
7.6 million barrels/day in 2012, up from 6.8 m barrels in 2007.
Fly the (hic!) friendly skies: renewable jet fuel from alcohol
When most of us think of highly customized aviation alcohols, we probably think
of the little bottles of Johnnie Walker. But a handful of companies such as Cobalt,
Gevo, Terrabon, LanzaTech and ZeaChem, are shaking up the emerging aviation biofuels
markets by developing renewable aviation fuels from ethanol and/or biobutanol.
It’s been an improbable mission, but a handful are getting close enough that
we had better explain the background before they achieve massive scale.
Um, how do you make jet fuel from alcohol?
“An alcohol molecule, looking at it one way, is really just a hydrocarbon carrying
this extra OH [a hydroxyl group] on its back,” explains LanzaTech CEO Jennifer
Holmgren. So, chemically reforming alcohol into jet fuel is not a bizarre form
of medieval alchemy.
But in the process, you generally need two ethanol molecules to make a jet fuel molecule, so unless you are interested in trying to sell $6 jet fuel, you had better start
with something that produces much better than $3 ethanol.
For that reason,alcohol to jet fuel should be properly seen as a niche market
for ethanol producers – but, owning to the early interest in jet fuels from both
commercial airline and the military, one that may break out towards commercial
scale faster, for some companies, faster than their efforts to make commercial-scale
Isobutanol and n-butanol, as made by Gevo, Cobalt and Butamax, is an alcohol
with special applications in jet fuel because it is a four-carbon molecule to
begin with. Back in 2009, Gevo opined that the first “Sasol Synthetic Jet was C12‐ centered isoparaffin
mixture with similar properties” to Gevo’s jet fuel blend stock. Gevo said at the time that its jet fuel met
all ASTM specifications except a slight miss on fuel density, and blended with
25% Jet A it met all specs. Gevo also indicated that it could make a jet fuel
blend stock at an operating cost equivalent to $65 oil.
The feedstock dilemma
For all the excitement over Hydroprocessed Esters and Fatty Acids” (HEFA) fuels,
recently approved as a jet fuel spec by ASTM, and now already used in a 50/50
blend with conventional fossil aviation fuels on commercial flights operated by
Lufthansa and KLM, alcohol fuels have the attraction of opening up a more feasible
pool of feedstocks.
The achilles heel of HEFA fuel is the problem of getting enough fuel made from
camelina, algae, jatropha or other non-food renewable oil sources. All three feedstocks
check out brilliantly under operating conditions, but camelina and algae are in
their infancy in terms of production at commercial scale; jatropha is much farther
along, but is far from providing anywhere near the 30 billion gallons of biofuel
the aviation industry would buy tomorrow, if the price and performance is on par
with fossil fuels.
On the alcohol side, there is the tantalizing prospect of traditional feedstocks
like corn and cane, energy crops like miscanthus and switchgrass, or low-cost
feedstocks like municipal solid waste or agricultural waste such as bagasse or
corn stover. Not to mention the possibilities of utilizing woody biomass.
Progress to date
DARPA jumped into the file this year by funding a clutch of projects.
Terrabon was awarded a $9.6 million, 18-month contract by Logos Technologies
to design a more economical and renewable jet fuel production solution for the
Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. Started in April of 2011, a customized
production process for DARPA will be engineered, constructed and operated at Terrabon’s
Bryan, TX demonstration facility in an effort to yield 6,000 liters of jet fuel
through the use of the company’s advanced bio-refining technology MixAlco, in
preparation for commercialization of this technology.
“An important focus of this DARPA effort is to produce a sustainable, cost-effective,
non-fossil-fuel-based solution to support the military’s jet fuel needs. We thoroughly
reviewed many potential processes and solutions for this initiative, and came
to the conclusion that this goal can best be achieved with help of Terrabon and
their mixed alcohol oligomerization pathway, MixAlco,” said Dr. Greg Poe, CEO,
MixAlco converts low-cost, readily available, non-food, non-sterile biomass into
valuable chemicals such as acetic acid, ketones and alcohols that can be processed
into renewable fuels.
LanzaTech was also awarded DARPA funds to perform research focused on novel,
low-cost routes to production of jet fuel from carbon monoxide sources. The LanzaTech
project will focus on reducing the cost of alcohol intermediates, which will be
thermochemcally converted to JP-8 renewable jet fuel.
At the time, LanzaTech CEO Dr. Jennifer Holmgren said that the economics of alcohol-to-jet
fuel are driven by the cost of alcohol intermediates – LanzaTech’s technology,
which produces alcohols by gas fermentation of CO-rich feedstocks such as industrial
off-gases, has the potential to be an economically and environmentally sound approach
to alternative aviation fuels.
Over in Colorado, Gevo announced it has signed an engineering and consulting
agreement with Mustang Engineering to convert Gevo’s renewable isobutanol to bio-jet
fuel. This effort will focus on the downstream processing of isobutanol to paraffinic
kerosene (jet fuel) for jet engine testing, airline suitability flights and advancing
Once completed successfully, the company will initiate jet engine testing with
engine manufacturers. Mustang is a global project management, engineering, procurement,
and construction operations company serving the upstream oil and gas, refining
and chemicals, pipeline, automation and control, and industrial markets.
In Oregon, ZeaChem is proposing a 15 million gallon jet fuel output from its
proposed integrated biorefinery in Boardman, Oregon (which would, alternatively,
be able to produce 25 million gallons of ethanol), and said that it can have such
capacity ready by 2014.
Also, there is the California-based Byogy Renewables, whose CEO KEvin Weiss is
chairing the ASTM committee on alcohol-to-jet specs. Byogy’s edge? It has a process
that converts the alcohols to jet fuel, and like several advanced biofuels companies,
has opened up a division based in Brazil.
In the case of LanzaTech, the company has signaled that it expects to be able
to produce up to 15 billion gallons of renewable jet fuel (yes, that’s “billion”)
from existing steel waste gases that are generally flared after being generated
in blast furnaces, at an operating cost of $1.50 for the alcohol, suggesting a
cost range of around $3 per gallon for jet fuel. Even adding in capital costs
and margin, it’s getting to be in the ballpark of conventional fuel costs. LanzaTech
is expecting to have its first 100 million gallon facility (ethanol) completed
in China in 2013.
At the Paris Air Show this past summer, Gevo presented test results conducted
by SRI International and the Air Force Research Lab to the alcohol jet review
(ATJ) committee of ASTM. The next step in the ATJ specification will be work with
engine manufacturers to complete commercial engine testing.
Full certification of ATJ is expected in 2013, by which time Gevo expects to
have 110 million gallons of isobutanol capacity for use in the jet fuel and chemical
markets. United Airlines and Gevo have previously signed a non-binding offtake
agreement from ORD, starting in 2013.
The market and drivers for aviation fuels
Worldwide demand for aviation fuels is growing fast, primarily due to growth
in the robust Chinese aviation market. According to the International Energy Agency,
aviation fuel demand will reach “7.6 million barrels per day in 2012, up from
about 6.8 million barrels per day in 2007″. That translates into 116 billion gallons
of jet fuel, globally, by 2012.
Aviation accounts for 12% of the fuel consumed by the entire transportation sector,
which is equivalent to roughly 1.5 to 1.7 billion barrels of kerosene annually
(about 70 billion gallons).
Analysts project that aviation biofuels will replace roughly 1% of kerosene by
2015, 25% by 2025, and 30% by 2030. This represents a market value of US $2 billion,
$56 billion, and $68 billion in delivered fuel respectively, assuming current
The emissions driver for renewable fuels
Among demand drivers for Bio-SPK are the prospect of big carbon credit payments
by airlines operating into, out of, or within Europe. Commencing in January 2012,
the airline industry is scheduled to enter into the EU Emissions Trading Scheme,
which will cap carbon emission levels, and is expected to cost airlines up to
$19 billion in 2012 alone, according to a March report from Point Carbon.
The bottom line
So there you have it – from hooch to jet fuel, by the numbers. Generally, expect
a fuel spec to be OKd in 2013, and fuel contracts to ramp up significantly in
this decade. Not every producer is going to target ATJ – most companies make alcohol
too expensively to make jet fuel work, and those that have transformatively low
operating costs for alcohol production may simply focus more on the road transportation
markets where mandates can create higher per-BTU prices for selling ethanol fuel
than jet fuel.
Two huge variables – the underlying price of conventional jet fuel, and the impact
of low-carbon standards. If the trends on oil prices and carbon work out as expected,
ATJ [Alcohol to Jet] could well be the major driver of aviation biofuel supply
between now and the late 2010s or early 2020s when platforms such as jatropha
and algae get more traction.
Next Generation Jet Fuels
Next Generation Jet Fuels
22.6.2011 (Scoop business, New Zealand)
Auckland, New Zealand June 22, 2011: Clean energy technology company LanzaTech is at the world’s largest air show in Paris showing the aviation industry its technology for producing next generation jet
Dr Jennifer Holmgren, LanzaTech’s chief executive, says the aviation industry
(both its commercial and military sectors) is keen to reduce its carbon footprint
and is looking to low carbon fuels as an element of a basket of solutions to help
achieve that target.
LanzaTech has just been awarded funds from the United States’ Defense Advanced
Research Projects Agency (DARPA) to perform research focusing on novel, low cost routes for the production of
jet fuel (JP-8) from carbon monoxide (CO) rich sources.
The project will focus on technology development to reduce costs for producing
alcohol intermediates, which will be thermochemically converted to JP-8.
“The Department of Defense has set ambitious targets for alternative fuel use
with the Air Force goal of 50% alternative fuel use in all its domestic flights,
and the Navy’s objective to use 50% alternative fuel across all of its operations
by 2020,” Dr Holmgren says.
Alternative aviation fuels are a key theme at the Paris Air Show this year. The
New Zealand founded Lanzatech is part of the global exhibition showcase.
Dr Holmgren says biofuels produced through hydroprocessing of lipids recently
received approval by ASTM (American Society of Testing and Materials). The next
biofuel expected to be certified will be fuel prepared from alcohols. LanzaTech
is represented on an alcohols-to-jet (ATJ) task force, which is working on the
The efficient conversion of alcohols to aviation fuel has already been demonstrated
by a number of groups. Dr Holmgren says a number of those routes for converting
alcohols produce aromatics not just isoparaffins, which means there is a possibility
of longer term certifying a fully synthetic aviation fuel (not just a blend stock).
“There is a need to stabilize the price of aviation fuel, which can only happen
if there is more than one source of such fuels,” Dr Holmgren says. “However, the
rapid adoption of alternative aviation fuels requires that they be sustainable
in all dimensions – environmental, social and economic.
“LanzaTech provides a sustainable, cost-competitive route to drop-in hydrocarbon
fuels by producing alcohols from CO-rich feedstocks, such as industrial off gases
that have no impact on food or water security.”
Dr Holmgren says LanzaTech’s approach for the production of alcohols also results
in a cost effective final aviation fuel.
“In order to deliver cost competitive aviation fuels from alcohols, the price
of the alcohol must be driven to a very low number,” she says. “The reason for
this is that ethanol to jet conversion requires that two gallons of alcohol be
converted per gallon of jet fuel produced. Therefore the alcohol must be produced
at a low enough cost that the 2x factor on a per gallon basis doesn’t make the
aviation fuel cost prohibitive.
“We believe that there are a number of handles which can further reduce the price
of our alcohol such that the final aviation fuel will be cost competitive with
petroleum derived fuels without incentives. DARPA’s support will enable us to
continue to improve the economics of this unique technology platform, leading
to an economically and environmentally sound approach to alternative aviation
Read more »