Australian biofuel company Licella (in Somersby, NSW) has signed a MOU with both Virgin Australia and Air New Zealand on their technology to convert ligno-cellulosic biomass such as wood waste, agricultural or farm waste, into jet biofuel. Their process uses a Catalytic Hydro Thermal Reactor (CAT-HTR) that breaks down pulverised biomass to produce high-quality bio-crude oil.
Wed 14 Dec 2011 (GreenAir online)
Australian biofuel company Licella has signed Memoranda of Understanding with both Virgin Australia and Air New Zealand to assist with the development of the Licella’s technology to convert ligno-cellulosic biomass such as wood waste into sustainable jet biofuel. The ‘supercritical’ water technology involves a patented process using a Catalytic Hydro Thermal Reactor (CAT-HTR) that breaks down pulverised biomass to produce high-quality bio-crude oil. The process has been developed over the past three and a half years at Licella’s pilot facility in Somersby, NSW, and today a new demonstration plant was opened. Virgin Australia and Licella will jointly explore and test the potential of CAT-HTR to produce aviation fuel with the aim of supporting certification and reaching a commercial off-take agreement. Under the Air New Zealand MoU, the two parties will explore the potential of the technology to produce aviation biofuel in New Zealand.
The process can use a wide range of biomass, including agricultural and farm waste, to produce the bio-crude. The pilot plant has worked with a range of energy plants and sawdust although in principle, says Licella, any lingo-cellulosic biomass can be used. The new Commercial Demonstration Plant has been part-funded with a A$2.4 million ($2.38m) Australian federal government grant under the ‘Gen II’ fuel programme.
“By pioneering the use of water technology, Licella’s CAT-HTR offers a clean, fast and cost-effective method of processing biomass,” said Virgin Australia Group Executive of Operations Sean Donohue. “We were particularly drawn to Licella because its activities support Australian jobs, rural communities and our natural environment.
“Our strategy on sustainable aviation fuel is to work with a range of stakeholders across the industry. This is because we know creating a financially viable biofuel will require a variety of feedstocks and processes.”
Donohue explained the Licella technology could potentially complement a variety of sustainable Australian feedstocks the airline was exploring. In July, Virgin Australia announced it was joining a Western Australia consortium that plans to use pyrolysis technology to process mallees, a species of eucalypt tree, into jet fuel (see article).
Commenting on the agreement, Licella CEO Steve Rogers said: “With the opening of our new, potentially energy game-changing facility, along with Virgin Australia’s support, Licella is on its way to achieving its goal of producing 500,000 barrels a year of bio-crude oil by 2015-16.”
Air New Zealand Deputy CEO Norm Thompson said his airline too was collaborating with a number of parties to research and develop bio-derived sustainable fuels, with a particular focus on growing a local aviation biofuel industry in New Zealand.
The airline was the first-ever airline to operate a sustainable aviation fuel flight back in January 2009 (see article). Along with New Zealand Trade and Enterprise, it has been working closely for more than two years with Licella and Norske Skog, a Norwegian paper manufacturer.
Licella Fibre Fuels, a new joint venture formed by Licella and Norske Skog Australasia, holds the exclusive licence of proprietary knowledge and intellectual property for converting lingo-cellulosic biomass into bio-crude using the CAT-HTR technology.
Licella’s Steve Rogers hoped the JV would lead to the construction of a large-scale second generation bio-crude oil production plant in New Zealand or Australia.
“Our ability to be able to make a bio-crude oil which can be dropped in and blended with traditional crude is a key differentiator of our technology, as it significantly reduces the capital costs of its implementation and enables us to increase volumes over time,” he said.
Both Virgin Australia and Air New Zealand are members of the Sustainable Aviation Fuel Users Group (SAFUG) and the SAFUG Sustainable Aviation Fuel Road Map (SAFRM) Australasian grouping.
Virgin Australia – Sustainable Aviation Biofuel
Air New Zealand – Environment & Sustainability
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In many sectors, such as consumer goods, food, etc, products have to be traceable and show their country of origin. Attention is now turning to oil and gas. With the current controversy in the UK over the European fuel quality regulation there will be growing demand for greater transparency. There are already some companies that have pledged to avoid using unconventional oil from oil sands. Pressure to disclose is increasing and the technology to trace crude oil back to its origin is emerging.
Companies are going to need to develop mechanisms to ensure products can be traced and sourced with sustainability in mind
Posted by Geoff Lye for the Guardian Professional Network
14 December 2011 (Sustainable Business Blog)
Fast-moving industries involved in the production of consumer goods, food, apparel and precious stones have all come under pressure about the provenance of materials, components and products in their supply chains. Many companies in these sectors have responded by developing mechanisms to assure customers and consumers that products can be traced and sourced with environmental and social considerations in mind. Such traceability has reshaped expectations of corporate accountability and transparency.
Attention is now turning to oil and gas. The sector is already facing a reputational crisis following the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill, the WikiLeaks disclosures and recent events around the Keystone XL oil pipeline; and controversy in the UK over the European fuel quality regulation means that it is likely inevitable that there will be growing demand for greater transparency. As in other sectors, traceability will be a key feature of the rising tide of transparency and accountability, as businesses, customers and consumers become more discerning in their choice of fuel.
The growth of traceability within the industry looks set to focus on so-called “unconventional oil production”, which has greater environmental and social impacts than conventional fossil fuels. The evidence is already there that the trend of traceability is playing out in the purchasing decisions of some leading businesses. Retailers such as Timberland, Walgreens,and Bed Bath & Beyond have pledged to avoid using unconventional oil derived from oil sands. The Royal Bank of Canada, often criticised for its involvement with oil sands, has recently responded to pressure by adopting more stringent social and environmental standards on its lending policy.
To date the oil and gas industry has taken a rather predictable line of defence: crude oil is fungible and traded as a commodity, and it is not practical to trace a final product back to its source. The position has been enabled by the lack of disclosure from the oil and gas companies themselves regarding the derivation of their products. But this looks set to change as non-governmental organisation campaigns gather speed, developments in science and technology unfold and regulation kicks in.
ForestEthics is helping companies trace the fuel their shipping suppliers use back to specific refineries. Players like Greenpeace, WWF, Friends of the Earth and The Pembina Institute are highlighting the damaging environmental and social consequences of unconventional oil, and are pressuring both businesses and consumers on the oil sands issue.
Newspapers such as the Financial Times have reported on the participation of BP and Shell in unconventional oil production and the resulting shareholder inquiries into these plans. High street campaigns have also been targeting retailers, especially those that trade off ethical claims.
In parallel, emerging technology is enabling the traceability of crude oil back to its origin based on the product’s very specific chemical composition. The science has already been proven in the Gulf of Mexico where the chemical “fingerprinting” of oil following Deepwater Horizon, enabled investigators to determine that it indeed come from the Macondo well.
Regulatory action is another potential challenge to the sector. The European fuel quality regulation is set to designate transport fuel from tar sands as resulting in 22% more greenhouse gas emissions than from conventional fuels. According to the Guardian, this would “make suppliers, who have to reduce the emissions from their fuels by 10% by 2020 very reluctant to include in in their fuel mix”. Low-carbon fuel standards are emerging in markets around the world.
The overriding risk for oil companies is that, as traceability develops through market or regulatory action, they will be caught on the back-foot, defensively attempting to minimise the reputational and financial loss that can come from investment in unconventional oil. In the worst case unconventional assets will be downgraded by investors or even entirely stranded if markets discriminate against them.
The key message is to jump before you are pushed and competitive advantage is likely to emerge for those companies that sell “oil sands free” fuels with appropriate branding and verified sourcing. Either way, oil companies and indeed all sectors, would do well to explore the issue of traceability before it emerges as a major force in customer and consumer choice.
Geoff Lye is chairman of SustainAbility. The full white paper by SustainAbility can be downloaded here
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Qantas is planning Australia’s first biofuel commercial flight in early 2012, according to its CEO. More details are likely to be released in the new year. They aim to make 1.5% cuts annually in emissions by various savings, but believe only biofuels will enable them to make significant cuts. Qantas has signed agreements with Solazyme and Solena. Boeing is working with Hawai’i BioEnergy to see if biojet fuels can be made from sorghum (so much for not competing with food) and eucalyptus, to keep their tourists flying in.
Thai Airways set to operate Asia’s first commercial passenger biofuel flight, with Qantas to follow in early 2012
11.12.2011 GreenAir online)
Thai Airways is to operate Asia’s first commercial passenger flight to be powered using a biofuel blend. An inaugural VIP flight of a Boeing 777-200 aircraft will take place on December 21 and the following day a scheduled passenger flight will fly from Bangkok to Chiang Mai. Details of the source of the biofuel and the blend mix have not yet been released by the airline, which says it is looking to pioneer the use of sustainable biofuels in Asia and Southeast Asia, and is encouraging other airlines in the region to follow suit.
Thai Airways President Piyasvasti Amranand said that sustainability was in line with the renewable energy vision of the King of Thailand and the use of biofuels would support the airline’s Travel Green initiative that was part of its Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) programme.
The inaugural flight will include representatives that have supported the jet biofuel project, including PTT, Aeronautical Radio of Thailand (AEROTHAI), the Department of Civil Aviation, Boeing and Rolls-Royce.
Passengers, including 100 students and professors who have been invited, on the following day’s first commercial flight will be encouraged to take part in CSR initiatives, and revenue from the flight will go towards developing renewable energy in Thailand.
Meanwhile, Qantas is planning Australia’s first sustainable biofuel commercial flight in early 2012, according to CEO Alan Joyce. Seen as a gateway to the Asia-Pacific region, Boeing is to collaborate on a project that aims to bring renewable aviation biofuel production to Hawaii.
Qantas CEO Alan Joyce told a recent conference in Brisbane that the airline was currently improving fuel efficiency by an average of 1.5% per year through fleet renewal, new technology, fuel optimisation and reducing resource consumption.
“While these initiatives can achieve significant improvements, only the production of sustainable aviation fuel on a commercial scale can deliver a generational step in emissions reduction,” he said.
Announcing the airline’s intention to operate a commercial flight powered by sustainable fuel in early 2012, Joyce added: “We want the flight to be an inspiration – a preview of a sustainable future for Australian aviation. This country certainly has the human capital, the finance and the resources to be a global leader in bringing new kinds of aviation fuel to market.
“But if we are going to achieve this, we will need strong and effective partnerships with both public and private sector players including airports. That’s how we will develop the overall infrastructure needed in Australia to support regular commercial biofuel flights.”
A Qantas spokesman told GreenAir the biofuel commercial flight was planned for February, with more details likely to be released in the new year.
Earlier this year, Qantas signed agreements with two US companies in the alternative jet fuel field, Solazyme and Solena, to assess the best sustainable fuel technologies. Feasibility studies with both companies are now in progress.
Meanwhile, Boeing has entered into an agreement with Hawai’i BioEnergy to identify biofuel sources and supporting technologies for producing sustainable jet fuel in Hawaii. The two will look at various crops including sorghum and eucalyptus as potential sources that can be grown locally and converted to jet fuel. The collaboration will also look to assess new supporting technologies for aviation biofuel production.
“As an Asia-Pacific gateway and leading tourism destination, Hawaii can play a meaningful role in helping aviation reduce carbon emissions, while increasing regional energy resources,” said Billy Glover, Boeing Commercial Airplanes Vice President of Environment and Aviation Policy. “This collaborative effort will allow us to examine potential local options, while protecting the beauty and culture these islands have to offer.”
As an island state, Hawaii is currently dependent on imported energy but Hawai’i BioEnergy is leading the development of a local biofuels industry and is a supplier of renewable energy to the Hawaiian Electric Company.
“We are looking forward to working with Boeing in addressing Hawaii’s energy needs, particularly for aviation fuel,” said Hawai’i BioEnergy’s Chief Operating Officer Joel Matsunaga. “We have the opportunity to shape a more sustainable energy future for our children and generations to come in Hawaii while creating economic growth for the State.”
The company was established by three of Hawaii’s largest land owners and has backing from a number of venture capital groups, including Vinod Khosla. Khosla has also provided funding for respected biofuel companies such as Gevo, LanzaTech and Amyris
for details of most of the airlines and flights that have so far taken place, or are planned.
GreenAir online Links:
Qantas – Sustainable Aviation Fuel
Boeing – Sustainable Aviation Biofuels
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The Committee on Climate Change have produced their review on bioenergy. On aviation it says: Biofuels could play a role through the 2020s and beyond in supporting emission reductions from aviation, but this should not be seen as a ‘silver bullet’. It says as well as bioenergy, “efficiency improvements and constrained demand growth will also be required. The findings of the bioenergy review will feed in to the Government’s new bioenergy strategy and to the Committee’s advice on the inclusion of international aviation and shipping in carbon budgets which will be published in Spring 2012.”
The press release from the Committee on Climate Change, on 7th December enttled
“Review highlights the importance of taking a sustainable approach to bioenergy, and of demonstrating CCS to meet carbon budgets”
Carbon budgets will be very difficult to achieve without the use of bioenergy, and the
successful development of Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) technology,
according to a review of bioenergy by the Committee on Climate Change (CCC).
The review concludes that a 10% share of bioenergy in total energy could be
required to meet the UK’s 2050 emissions target, compared to the current share of
Bioenergy would ideally be used with CCS, which would allow for the removal of
carbon from the atmosphere and for higher emissions reductions to be achieved.
The review suggests that a 10% share in 2050 could be feasible within sustainability
limits, but any higher than this could be unsafe given sustainability concerns – and
even at the 10% level, there may be trade-offs with wider environmental and social
In the report the Committee makes five key recommendations to the Government:
1) Regulatory frameworks should be strengthened to ensure sustainability of
bioenergy. Under current approaches, use of bioenergy could result in emissions
increases rather than emission reductions; particularly due to indirect land use
impacts (i.e. growth of bioenergy feedstocks can displace agriculture production
to carbon rich land). Therefore EU and UK frameworks should be extended to
cover these impacts. At the UK level, the emissions benchmark for use of
biomass in power generation should be made more stretching (i.e. reduced from
285g CO2/kWh to 200g CO2/kWh). These changes should be complemented by
agreement at the climate change conference in Durban on accounting for land
use change emissions under the Kyoto Protocol and any successor agreement.
Embargoed until: 00.01 on 7 December 2011 Issue No: 452)
2. CCS should be demonstrated as a matter of urgency. This is not just because
of its potential application with fossil fuels, but because of its use with biomass,
which would effectively allow the removal of carbon from the atmosphere.
Without CCS, carbon budgets would be significantly more difficult to achieve, and
would require currently unforeseen technology breakthroughs or significant
behaviour change. Therefore the Government should move forward with its four
proposed demonstration projects without delay, setting clear milestones to
provide confidence that these will be delivered on time.
3) Government should regard targets on biofuels and biomass as flexible and
should delay setting any new targets until new regulatory arrangements have
been put in place to ensure the sustainable supply of bioenergy. In particular, if it
becomes clear that sustainable supply is below levels currently targeted, targets
should be adjusted downwards, rather than delivered in an unsustainable
4) Subsidies should not be provided to new large scale biomass power
generation under the Renewables Obligation. Such subsidies, recently
proposed by the Government, would be costly and unsustainable. The focus in
power generation should be on co-firing and conversion of existing coal plant,
and new small-scale generation, using sustainable local bioenergy supplies.
5) Other low carbon options should be developed given limited sustainable
supply of bioenergy. These include energy efficiency improvement, nuclear and
wind power generation, electric vehicles (battery and hydrogen) and electric
Bioenergy refers to combusting solid, liquid or gas fuels made from biomass
feedstocks, which may or may not have undergone some form of conversion
The Committee assessed the role of bioenergy both globally and in the UK and
considered how it might best be applied to help meet climate targets. The role of bioenergy in climate change mitigation is controversial and the review illustrates significant uncertainties around its use, in relation to:
The emissions reductions that can be achieved through using it – It is hard
to account fully for all emissions resulting from the use of bioenergy and often
lifecycle emissions are excluded – so higher than anticipated emissions may be
The sustainable supply of bioenergy – Population growth, coupled with
increasing wealth, means that in the next decades there will be an increasing
need for land to grow food. Growth of bioenergy feedstocks could risk displacing
food production. In addition, there are wider environmental and social impacts
associated with the use of bioenergy e.g. negative impacts on biodiversity,
natural habitats and deforestation.
Taking these concerns into account, the Committee assessed where bioenergy might
best be used to support the UK in building a prosperous low-carbon economy,
recommending that the following approach be taken across sectors:
Power generation – biomass could be used alongside or instead of coal in
existing coal-fired plants. However, any role for new dedicated biomass without
CCS should be very limited given its high cost.
Industry – There is scope to significantly reduce emissions from buildings by
using wood in construction as this would lock in carbon and replace high
emission building materials e.g. concrete, steel and cement. Biomass can also be
used in energy-intensive industries, alongside CCS, as an alternative to coal –
this would result in negative emissions.
Aviation – Biofuels could play a role through the 2020s and beyond in supporting
emission reductions from aviation, but this should not be seen as a ‘silver bullet’.
Efficiency improvements and constrained demand growth will also be required.
Surface transport –there is likely to be only niche use of biofuels in surface
transport, which will predominantly require use of electric technologies to
decarbonise cars, vans and heavy goods vehicles (HGVs). This underscores the
need for Government to support development of electric vehicle markets now.
A range of sensible smaller-scale local uses for bioenergy- this includes
using old cooking oil to run buses, making use of food or farm waste in anaerobic
digestion plants, or using woodchip from tree surgery waste in biomass boilers.
David Kennedy, Chief Executive of the Committee on Climate Change said:
“The extent to which bioenergy should contribute to economy decarbonisation is
Our analysis shows that there is a crucial role for bioenergy in meeting carbon
budgets, but within strict sustainability limits – and trade-offs with wider
environmental and social objectives may be needed.
Strengthening of regulatory arrangements is required both here and in Europe to
provide confidence that bioenergy used over the next decade is sustainable.
CCS should be demonstrated and demonstration projects commenced given the
crucial role of this technology when used with bioenergy to meet carbon budgets.
The Government should change its approach to supporting new biomass power
generation, which as proposed could raise costs with limited carbon benefits.”
The findings of the bioenergy review will feed in to the Government’s new bioenergy
strategy and to the Committee’s advice on the inclusion of international aviation and
shipping in carbon budgets which will be published in Spring 2012.
Notes to Editors
The Committee on Climate Change (CCC)
The CCC is an independent statutory body established under the Climate Change Act to
advise the UK Government on setting carbon budgets, and to report to Parliament on the
progress made in reducing greenhouse gas emissions: www.theccc.org.uk/.
The Bioenergy Review sets out the CCC’s assessment of the role for bioenergy in
meeting carbon budgets.
The UK is committed under the Climate Change Act (2008) to reducing emissions of
greenhouse gases by 80% by 2050 in order to tackle climate change.
Carbon budgets are 5-year ceilings set on economy-wide emissions set to ensure that the UK meets its climate change targets. The first four carbon budgets have been set by the Government and commit the UK to a 50% cut in emissions (on 1990 levels) by 2025.
The review is supported by 4 technical papers which contain the full analysis and
evidence behind the chapters in the review.
Bioenergy is produced through burning solid, liquid or gas fuels which have been made
from biomass feedstocks.
Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) is technology which involves capturing the carbon
dioxide emitted from burning fossil fuels, transporting it and storing it in secure spaces
such as geological formations, including old oil and gas fields and aquifers under the
The CCC’s new report, the ‘Climate Change Review’ (December 2011) can be accessed
CCC press release at:
The RSPB welcomed this announcement
RSPB welcomes bioenergy review
The RSPB has welcomed the Committee on Climate Change Bioenergy Review released today.
Harry Huyton, RSPB head of energy and climate change policy, said: “This is an important and timely report. With the right policies in place bioenergy could offer vital carbon savings, but it also has the potential to accelerate the destruction of forests and other natural habitats and make climate change worse.
“The Government must take an evidence-based approach to the industry, supporting only those schemes that offer genuine climate benefits. The CCC’s new report sets out some urgent first steps to this position. Government must now follow this advice if bioenergy is to play a positive role in the UK’s energy future. If they fail to do so then public money will be used to prop up a fundamentally unsustainable, damaging industry.
“Critical to this is removing subsidies for large-scale biomass electricity. Earlier this year, the RSPB published a review of proposals for such power stations in the UK. We found that 32 plants were in development and they planned to import 81% of the biomass they were going to burn – that means they would require up to 33 million tonnes of imported wood which will come from forestry markets in Canada, Russia and the US.
“Not only is this environmental madness, but the CCC have today shown that it does not make economic sense either. Offshore wind, for example, offers low-carbon, renewable energy at a similar cost but without threatening forests.”
The CCC have also suggested that bioenergy could supply up to 10% of UK energy in 2050, and that this would be within sustainable limits. They have, however, said that its role must ultimately be constrained by the sustainable supply, and that we should not attempt to meet targets if it becomes clear that they are unsustainable.
Mr Huyton added: “This is a clear message to Government that the role of bioenergy must be based on the amount of sustainable supplies available, and that it must not recklessly pursue it bioenergy targets if it becomes clear that they are at the expense of the environment.
“This advice is particularly pertinent to Government’s policy of subsidising biofuels in spite of the continued accumulation of evidence that they cause more problems for the environment then they solve. In Kenya, for example, the RSPB has been fighting to prevent a major biofuel plantation that would destroy a dry tropical forest, whilst in Indonesia palm oil expansion continues to fuel deforestation.”
The response from Biofuelwatch is at
UK Environmentalists: ‘Committee on Climate Change would sacrifice the world’s forests on the altar of our energy addiction’
Read more »
Guardian article about Richard Branson and his hopes for aviation being able to use biofuels for perhaps 50% of their fuel by 2020. This is based on the hope that biofuels, from algae in particular, will be very low carbon. There is a lot of unfounded optimism about what biofuels’ or other (not defined) “sustainable” fuels’) carbon emissions will be, now cheap they will be, and how fast they can be scaled up to industrial quantities. Branson’s aim is not to cut overall emissions, but get cheap fuel for airlines, so they can continue to grow – and thus postpone the day when the industry acutually starts to be responsible for its environmental impact.
Aviation could switch to low-carbon fuel ‘sooner than thought’
Richard Branson says aeroplanes have few ‘filling stations’ compared with other transport, making it easier to supply them
by John Vidal, environment editor
The world’s 7,000 airlines could switch to low-carbon jet fuels much faster than other transport because aeroplanes have very few “filling stations”, says Richard Branson.
“Unlike cars where there are millions of filling stations, there are only about 1,700 aviation stations in the world. So if you can get the right fuel, like mass-produced algae, then getting it to 1,700 outlets is not so difficult,” Branson said in an interview with the Guardian from the British Virgin islands.
Branson, who announced last month he hoped Virgin would soon be able to use waste gases from industrial steel and aluminium plants as a fuel, said the industry should aim for 50% sustainable fuels by 2020. [Fine to use the waste gases, but that won't make up much of the overall fuel used by aviation. And what does he mean by "sustainable"? could mean anything. So bit of a meaningless statement]
“I would be very disapointed if not. Once the breakthrough takles place, getting to 50-100% is not unrealistic. Aviation fuel is 25-40% of the running costs of airlines so the industry is open to new fuels.” [So this means it is being done to try and save costs, not carbon].
Branson, whose Virgin group owns 51% of Virgin Atlantic Airways, was speaking in advance of the launch in Durban of RenewableJetFuels.org, an open access website that assesses and updates the progress of companies planning to produce commercial-scale renewable fuel for aviation. [ Renewable maybe, but not necessarily low carbon, or not competing in one way or other with human or animal food etc].
It suggests that of the 40 companies claiming to have the potential to deliver large-scale amounts – about one third of them are “credible” from an economic, scalable and sustainability perspective in their current state.
In the next five years, according to the website published by business NGO Carbon War Room (which was founded by Richard Branson) and academic publisher Elsevier, some renewable jet fuel companies “could be producing enough renewable fuel to replace 10-20% of the fuel of a typical mid-sized airline”. [So does that mean all these companies together can produce enough fuel for a bit of the needs of just one airline? Surely that would not make much difference].
The data, said Branson, should allow airlines to accelerate linkups with fuel companies.
“Producers can continually update and re-submit data. This is then reviewed by experts, enabling RenewableJetFuels.org to be the independent, gold standard for investors and airlines in the market,” said Suzanne Hunt, head of operations at Carbon War Room.
“Trying to address climate change makes business sense”, said Branson, whose Virgin airline spends around $3bn a year on jet fuel.
“The jet fuel industry can charge what they like at present. New fuels will compete. You could find the price of aviation fuel comes down.” [So these fuels are only being developed for cost reasons, and to hell with the carbon or other implications].
Three years ago Virgin flew a plane to Holland on coconut fuel [and babassu nut oil] and no one took it seriously, said Branson. [And rightly so. See http://www.airportwatch.org.uk/?p=1285 It used 150,000 coconuts for 6% of the fuel London to Amsterdam .......] “The industry thought it was PR. BA was pretty dismissive, saying planes will never fly on bio-fuels. But it actually kickstarted thinking. Since then, even BA has started investing in new biofuels.
“We’re heading in the right direction. The industry could go from one of the dirtiest to one of the cleanest in 10 years. We are investing in different companies and really beginning to see traction”.
The five leading alternative jet fuel companies identified by Carbon War Room are Lanzatech, SG biofuels, AltAir, Solazyme and Sapphire.
In answer to critics who say moves by the aviation industry to tap into biofuels or other renewable fuels are simply “greenwash”, he said attempting to reduce emissions from flying through finding greener fuels was “a better approach than giving up”.
|For much more on biofuels and why they are not the magic bullet solution for the aviation industry, see Biofuels and Biofuels News
and Flights that have been fuelled by biofuels This Branson move is yet another play by the airlines to try to avoid there being any global agreement capping their emissions; this time using the “look how quickly we are changing, there is no need to intervene” argument. At this rate they will be carbon neutral in roughly 1000 years!
There is a long page of questions and answers on the Renewable Jet Fuels website.
This is at: http://renewablejetfuels.org/what-we-do/frequently-asked-questions
Below are a few extracts from it (there is no mention anywhere of the carbon reductions that these fuels might bring):
Q. What’s driving the development of renewable fuels?
A. High fuel prices, fuel price volatility, and the desire to reduce GHGs from the aviation sector. Some governments around the world are considering and implementing carbon emissions penalties for aviation, and airlines using low carbon renewable fuels would benefit under these schemes. Finally, there has been a major shift in global refinery output away from jet fuel and toward gasoline and diesel fuels. This, combined with growing commercial and military jet fuel demand, is increasing cost and volatility of the jet fuel fraction relative to other fossil fuel types.
Q. What are the social implications of the aviation industry moving heavily into renewable fuels?
A. At the macro/global level, petroleum is found in a relatively small number of countries, while all countries are endowed with renewable resources so this represents a socioeconomic opportunity in a large number of countries. The jet fuel market is approximately 10% of the total petroleum fuel market, much smaller relative to gasoline and diesel markets. For technical and market reasons, companies involved in producing renewable jet fuel generally are also involved in making other types of fuels, so if this helps bring a shift to renewable fuels broadly there could be significant social implications, but it all depends on how the industry develops, including ownership structures, employment practices, feedstocks/technologies used, etc.
Our globalized world relies on air travel to connect people, goods, and commerce across the planet; aviation provides innumerable social and economic benefits. High and volatile fuel prices, as well as carbon emissions associated with fossil jet fuels represent fundamental threats to the future of commercial aviation. Renewable jet fuels may not only help the aviation sector survive, but even thrive in the future.
Q. What’s your response to the argument that the biofuels currently out there cause deforestation, food price rises, hunger, poverty, biodiversity loss and they often produce more GHG emissions than the fossil fuels they replace?
A. It all depends on what fuel, made from what materials, where, and how. Some biofuels could have some or maybe even all of those negative impacts, and some will be hugely beneficial. It is important not to throw the baby out with the bathwater here. It is extremely important that we clearly distinguish between the sustainable biofuel production pathways and unsustainable pathways, and support those that are sustainable. This is a key part of our mission.
It is worth noting that we use the term “renewable fuels” to be inclusive of new production pathways that don’t use biomass as a major input (for example, there are companies that are converting all kinds of waste into fuel including steel mill emissions and municipal waste, and some are working on direct conversion of solar energy into liquid fuels – they’ve dubbed them “solar fuels”.
Q. What is the market potential for these renewable fuels?
A. In both dollar and volume terms, there is a huge market for renewable jet fuels. Annual jet fuel demand is over 5 million barrels per day – making it a multi-billion dollar market. In 2010 Airlines alone spent $140 billion on jet fuel and expect to spend more the $200 billion in 2011.
Q. Isn’t the best way of reducing emissions in aviation, to have less flying? Or lighter aircraft?
A. Those are great ways to reduce emissions and we encourage greater efficiency and new ways of living and working that reduce pollution, however studies show that those measures alone will likely not be enough to halt the growth in emissions from the sector. [How's that for a non-answer !]
The website also says:
For the purpose of our data collection and rankings, we allow companies to provide documentation of any sustainability certification they have obtained. Currently the only sustainability certification system that encompasses all renewable transport fuels, is global, is multi-stakeholder, and followed the ISEAL best practices for transparency and inclusiveness is the Roundtable on Sustainable Biofuels (RSB). The RSB is a voluntary sustainability certification scheme that has just recently begun certifying producers. It is working to streamline its process and to harmonize with EU and US legal sustainability requirements so as to facilitate the marketplace with credible, rigorous sustainability standards that do not become a market barrier.
Comments from AirportWatch members:
What a load of rubbish Branson speaks to make his polluting industry seem greener than it is.
I don’t see how the number of “filling” stations makes any difference to the speed of roll out. Fuel is a high turnover product with very few places of manufacture (refineries), so the fact there is thousands of car filling stations is irrelevant and will make no difference to the speed of roll out.
I see there is virtually nothing about cutting carbon – as most fuels will make very small cuts in carbon emisssions, if any.
This is just part of a long-term campaign to persuade the public, the government, etc that aviation is trying really hard, while in practice it is only trying to keep on growing for as long as possible, as much as possible. It’s a PR thing. Pity he has got to Durban, to muddy the waters there.
This is a smoke-screen to obscure the real situation.
It does make a good press release though!
Airlines Flying on Clean Fuel Should Pay Less Tax, Branson Says
Date added: January 3, 2012
Branson manages to persuade many people that he takes his responsibilities to the environment seriously, and really plans to fly “green” and “clean” planes … whatever those charmingly vague terms mean. The spin about “clean”, alternative bio-jet fuels is fair enough if it concerns fuels made from waste flue gases, but his hopes of the aviation industry growing hugely by 2050 and getting half its fuel from biofuels by then are unrealistic. The hype is intended to persuade government etc that the aviation industry is seriously trying to tackle the issue of carbon emissions and thus to get as much government subsidy for this as possible. In reality it is a delaying tactic to to continue business as usual.
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A report into the energy used in production of algal biodiesel finds that the water needed is significant, and there are often high energy costs in providing this water for the process. There are also energy costs in providing nutrients for the algae, and other parts of the process. This means – for algae being cultivated in ponds in the USA – that life cycle energy consumed in the cultivation process sometimes, depending on various local conditions etc. – exceeds the amount of energy recovered from the algal biomass
17.11.2011 (European Commission) DG Environment News Alert Service
Producing biodiesel from microalgae is one potential solution to finding future renewable sources of energy, especially for the transportation sector. Different strains of microalgae have been identified for possible cultivation on a commercial scale to extract oils which can be converted to biodiesel.
Alternatively, the algae themselves can be burnt as a fuel, or they can be used to produce other fuels, such as methane and ethanol.
However, there are concerns about the amount of water and nutrients needed to cultivate the algae and whether the life cycle energy consumed in the cultivation process exceeds the amount of energy recovered from the algal biomass. Algae require large amounts of water in which to live and grow. Water must be available and not drawn away from other uses and should not lead to the lowering of water tables. Other concerns relate to disposal issues, for example, of sludge waste.
In this study, the energy associated with the supply and management of water needed for the cultivation of algae in open ponds (raceway ponds) was estimated for mass production of microalgae in all 48 states of the USA.
For algae to contribute significantly to future transportation supplies, cultivation must be large-scale and occur at many locations across the USA. Algal production for each state was estimated based on land potentially available, and geographic and climate conditions.
Energy inputs are required to handle the water. Freshwater or saline water must be sourced (typically pumped from surface or groundwater sources), held (e.g. in ponds lined with high density plastic film or concrete), circulated within the ponds (e.g. using paddlewheels), and pumped around the different areas for operation of the system. Energy is also needed to filter algae from the water and in the disposal of sludge.
The results suggest the potential energy output from the algae depends on how the energy is produced, the efficiency of separation process, the constituents of the biomass and the final products. Overall, it is estimated that seven times more energy needs to be invested in water management, compared with the expected energy return from the extracted
If all the algae were burnt as fuel or used to produce other fuels (e.g. methane or ethanol), theoretically the estimated average energy input associated with water management would be more than twice the average potential energy output. The greatest demand for energy comes from pumping water between the ponds. The amount of energy depends on the rate at which the specific algae species grows; the environmental conditions; and the different types of production systems used to cultivate the algae.
Energy to source saline water for the cultivation of some algal strains is the next largest demand for water-management energy. Growing freshwater algae reduces this energy requirement by just over 50% and reduces the total water management energy demands by 14%.
Using surface water would reduce the overall energy required for water management by an estimated 23%, although it is doubtful that surface water could produce the large quantities of biofuel needed.
Energy needed to produce the plastic liners in the ponds is the third greatest demand for water-related energy inputs. The lifetime of the plastic was taken into consideration, e.g. estimated to be 10 years for lining evaporation ponds.
Plastic liners protect the local environment from leakages and contamination by non-native algae and the nutrient-dense water.
Given the life cycle impact of energy requirements for the water management of the mass production of algae, the study advises that it is important to evaluate all energy inputs and outputs under realistic mass production over a wide area, rather than for limited, ideal conditions.
Source: Murphy, C.F. and Allen, D.T. (2011) Energy-Water Nexus for Mass Cultivation of Algae. Environmental Science & Technology. 45: 5861-5868.
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The DG of IATA says: “Oil is a scarce resource. The long-term price is upward – with volatility as a result of political and economic uncertainty,” he said and biofuels “are the industry’s long-term licence to grow”. “While sustainable biofuels have the potential to help us in our environmental efforts, current costs are prohibitive.” He has called on governments to “Provide incentives for airlines to use biofuels” and “De-risk public and private investments in aviation biofuels”. ie financial support from the public purse to assist the aviation industry.
22.11.2011 (GreenAir online)
IATA Director General Tony Tyler has called on governments to implement policies that encourage research, investment and incentives to help develop and commercialise a sustainable aviation biofuel industry.
With the approval of such fuels now in place and airlines using them in commercial operations, he said they had the potential to become a game-changer in cutting aviation’s carbon footprint, but they were still expensive and supply was limited.
“I am under no illusions that this will be an easy process,” he added in a speech to the IATA Fuel Forum in Paris. “But there is no shortage of commitment from the industry.” Meanwhile, next week’s annual meeting of the industry-led Commercial Aviation Alternative Fuels Initiative (CAAFI) promises to be the biggest yet with strong participation from fuel companies, buyers and US government agencies and states.
According to IATA, the industry’s fuel bill this year is expected to be $176 billion, representing 30% of operating costs, rising to an expected $201 billion (32% of costs) in 2012, despite a projected fall in the price of oil from $110 to $100 per barrel. “Oil at less than $100 has somehow come to look cheap,” noted Tyler.
“Oil is a scarce resource. The long-term price is upward – with volatility as a result of political and economic uncertainty,” he said. “While sustainable biofuels have the potential to help us in our environmental efforts, current costs are prohibitive.”
Tyler said that five years ago there was no alternative to jet fuel but progress on sustainable biofuels had been “a story of revolutionary proportions”, with an impressive acceleration in new supply projects over the last 12 months.
“There is an opportunity for both our traditional suppliers and new entrants to engage in this exciting development,” he told delegates. “We need all to come on board, work together and speak with a common voice. That is the way to convince governments to provide the right policies to develop a sustainable aviation biofuel industry.”
He outlined six steps that governments should take:
- Foster research into new feedstock sources and refining processes;
- De-risk public and private investments in aviation biofuels;
- Provide incentives for airlines to use biofuels from an early stage;
- Encourage stakeholders to commit to robust international sustainability criteria;
- Make the most of local green growth opportunities; and
- Encourage coalitions encompassing all parts of the supply chain.
Tyler said airlines were committed to using sustainable biofuels as they would be critical to achieving carbon neutral growth and emissions reduction targets. “Combined, . So, to secure our future, we need to make sustainable biofuels work commercially.”
In a subsequent speech to the African Airlines Association (AFRAA) in Morocco, Tyler said the necessary fiscal and legal frameworks put in place by governments to support the development of a successful sustainable aviation biofuels industry would also create jobs in the green economy.
“There is huge potential for Africa to develop local biofuels industries that could spread economic opportunity even in the most remote corner of the continent. And we should be lobbying governments strongly to help make that a reality,” he said.
According to Richard Altman, Executive Director of CAAFI, the cross-industry initiative that is supported by the Federal Aviation Administration, next week’s General Meeting starting on November 30 “is shaping up brilliantly”, he told GreenAir Online.
“We have over 50 fuel/feedstock companies, 25 separate federal offices and nearly 15 major buyers among the 300 invited guests – in short, the typically diverse supply chain approach from ground to end user we are seeking. Our goal is to set our direction for the next 12 to 24 months.
“In a global environment where many – in the US and Europe – seem incapable of getting much done at the public level, through our private/public partnership we are accelerating and succeeding to build a future.”
International participation in the event has increased with representation from Australia and Brazil as well from Europe. A new addition this year is a companion exhibition with some 30 entities ranging from research organisations through to biofuel technology companies.
IATA – Tony Tyler’s Fuel Forum speech
IATA – Tony Tyler’s AFRAA speech
CAAFI General Meeting 2011
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New research from the European Commission confirms that EU biofuel targets will speed up the rate of extinction of plants and animals. The EU has committed to halting biodiversity loss by 2020 – yet without reform, it’s biofuels policy will seriously undermine this. The indirect land use impacts would convert some 17,000 km2 of natural habitats to grow biofuels, none protected under EU legislation, with the transition to cropland decreasing species abundance by some 85%.
[ This is about biofuels for road transport and power generation, but biofuels for aviation are linked, and aviation biofuels are likely to be derived from crops.]
7.11.2011 (Friends of the Earth International)
by Phil Lee
Increasing the use of biofuels in Europe will have devastating impacts on wildlife a new scientific assessment has shown. The report by the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre (JRC) estimates that 85% of biodiversity will be damaged across 17,000 square kilometres of natural habitats that risks being converted to farmland as a result of EU biofuel targets. None of this will be protected under current EU legislation for biofuels. After continual controversy and delay, EU chiefs are on the verge of deciding how to deal with the greenhouse gas emissions associated with ‘indirect land use change’ from expanding biofuels.
EU officials will tomorrow (Friday November 18) present their assessment of scientific studies, which have consistently shown that the negative impacts on global land use and the climate could reverse any benefits of biofuels.  Friends of the Earth Europe is calling for an urgent rethink of EU biofuel policy and an end to subsidies.
The EU has committed to halting biodiversity loss by 2020 – yet without reform, it’s biofuels policy will seriously undermine this commitment.
Commenting on the research, Robbie Blake, biofuels campaigner for Friends of the Earth Europe, said: “Biofuels, once thought of as a solution, are pushing up food prices around the world, they’re making climate change worse, and it is now clear they could wipe out wildlife. “Continuing to expand biofuels for Europe’s cars is going to have a devastating impact on the biodiversity which is the very basis of our existence and is already disappearing at an alarming rate.
“The pressure is on the European Commission to decide once and for all how to stop the damage caused by biofuels. It must face up to the facts that biofuels are a disaster for the climate, communities and wildlife.” The JRC research indicates that habitats in Brazil, Sub-Saharan Africa and the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS – the former USSR countries) will be hardest hit:
“The extensive use of bioenergy crops will increase the rate in loss of biodiversity,” the JRC concludes. One such area, Brazil’s Cerrado – the most biodiverse savanna in the world – is already under pressure from expanding agriculture, with 54 species “red-listed” as endangered, including the Brazilian Big-eyed Bat, Giant Anteater, Pampas Cat and Maned Wolf.
15.11.2011 (Friends of the Earth, UK)
New research confirms that EU biofuel targets will speed up the rate of extinction of plants and animals. The negative impacts of the increasing demand for biofuels on food prices and their real impacts on the climate have attracted a lot of attention over the past couple of years. However what this means for biodiversity has only marginally being looked at, mostly as anecdotal evidence: e.g. the threat to orangutans from expanding palm oil plantations.
But now the EU Commission has published a new report that forms part of its own impact assessment of Indirect Land Use Change (ILUC) from biofuel targets. (The one the EU has been holding under wraps for months amid rumours that publication could “kill the biofuels industry“) For the first time the report looks at the wider biodiversity impacts of indirect land use change from biofuel demand, modelling what habitats will ultimately be converted to make way for biofuels plantations.
The result show that of converted habitats
- 42% would be forests (primary and managed)
- 42% would be pasture
- 16% would be savannah and grasslands
In total 17,000 km2 of natural habitats could be converted to farmland as a result of demand for biofuels in the EU. None of this will be protected under current EU legislation for biofuels. The report concludes “the transition to cropland will cause an 85.3% decrease in the MSA (mean species abundance) index in affected areas. This result, in line with the conclusions of the GLOBIO3 study, shows that the extensive use of bioenergy crops will increase the rate in loss of biodiversity” This means for the first time the EU has openly confirmed our warnings that on top of doing little or nothing to reduce greenhouse gas emissions EU biofuel targets will also speed up species extinction. Please tell Energy Minister, Charles Hendry, to stop support for the use of biofuels and imported biomass in power stations.
Read the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre report
The Summary of this report states:
This study follows the methodology developed by the JRC (2010) for estimating changes in
greenhouse gas emissions from global land use changes due to increased biofuels demand, and applies the methodology to the output of global modelling calculations run by the International Food and Policy Research Institute (IFPRI).
In particular, this report focuses on the scenario recently published by IFPRI1 that was based on the estimates of the National Renewable Energy Action Plans (NREAPs) of the EU Member States. In this scenario, a total 1st generation biofuels blend of 8.7%, with a spread bioethanol/biodiesel of 22%-78% (NREAP “full mandate”) was assumed. In addition to the “full mandate”, marginal calculations for 8 different feedstocks were also carried out.
For completeness of the analysis on IFPRI scenarios carried out in JRC 2010 report, Appendix 1 also reports the results of the methodology as applied to another scenario (the “8.6% mandate”) published in the previous IFPRI report of 20102: this scenario assumes a biofuels (1st generation) blend in total fuel consumption in 2020 of 8.6% with a spread bioethanol/biodiesel of 60%-40%.
Based on the outcomes of IFPRI economic modeling in the “NREAPs scenario“, the increased biofuels demand will cause ILUC GHG emissions of about 36 gCO2/MJ. This result also includes emissions from peatland drainage due to oil palm plantations mainly in Indonesia and Malaysia, which were not accounted in the original JRC methodology.
The estimated peat emissions in unit of energy are 19.8 gCO2/MJ, which represent the main contribution to total GHG emissions from LUC (about 55% of total emissions).
ILUC GHG emissions for 8 feedstocks (4 for ethanol and 4 for biodiesel) were also calculated. The results show that in general ethanol crops have lower ILUC impacts than oilseeds/biodiesel crops:
emissions for ethanol feedstocks range from about 4 to 20 gCO2/MJ, and for biodiesel feedstocks they range from about 36 to 60 gCO2/MJ. These JRC results are in line with the emissions calculated by IFPRI.
Compared to the new (2011) study, the previous (2010) economic analysis carried out by IFPRI gave much higher estimations of land use change due to 8.6% biofuels consumption in 2020 (“8.6% scenario”), resulting in GHG emissions of about 54 gCO2/MJ3. The contribution of peat emissions is about 3 gCO2/MJ, which corresponds to only 5% of total emissions. The low share is due to the very limited oil palm expansion in the previous IFPRI economic analysis.
Find out more about Friends of the Earth Europe’s agrofuels campaign
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Qantas has announced that Australia’s first commercial flight powered by “sustainable” fuel will be in early 2012. Qantas has signed agreements with Solazyme (in the USA), which is working with algae-based aviation fuels, and Solena (in the USA),
which is experimenting with waste-based fuels. Qantas hopes to improve fuel efficiency by 1.5% each year. Solarzyme’s fuel is called Solajet, and they aim to scale its production up to commercial levels.
Qantas, Solazyme to launch biofuels flights in 2012
November 14, 2011 (Biofuel Digest)
In Australia, Qantas announced that the country’s first commercial flight powered
by sustainable fuel will be carried out in early 2012.
This year, Qantas has signed agreements with two leading manufacturers of sustainable
aircraft fuel. Solazyme is working with algae-based aviation fuels and Solena
is experimenting with water-based [sic - they probably mean waste based] fuels.
The airline’s CEO, Alan Joyce, stated that only the production of sustainable
aviation fuel on a commercial basis could deliver a generational step in emissions
reduction. Qantas is committed to improving fuel efficiency by 1.5 per cent each
Solazyme, Qantas sign aviation biofuels development partnership
February 11, 2011 (Biofuel Digest)
In California, Solazyme announced that it has begun a collaboration with Qantas,
to pursue the potential for commercial production of Solazyme’s microbial derived
aviation fuel, Solajet, in Australia. This represents the first collaboration
in the Asia-Pacific region to explore the use of Solajet in commercial aviation.
There is currently a six billion liter a year demand for aviation fuel in Australia.
Qantas is also working with another US company, Solena, to determine the feasibility
of using MSW for production of biojet fuel.
More on the story.
Last month, we wrote: “At a series of public and private meetings this week on
the Rodeo Drive of algae, North Torrey Pines Road in La Jolla, California, Qantas
confirmed that it is in advanced talks with an unnamed algal biofuels producer
(“with strong ties to Australia”) that are expected to result in a letter of intent
for an offtake agreement for algal jet fuel, with the potential that Qantas may
take a financial stake in the venture.
Qantas’ Peter Broschofsky, who is coordinating the initiative for Qantas as well
as chairing the environment committee of the International Air Transport Association
(IATA), also confirmed that the company, hopes to complete feasibility work on
its first biofuels project within six months. Qantas signed LOI with Solena earlier
this year, and launched what was described at the time as a 12-month investigation
of the potential to develop a 19 million gallon waste-to-jet fuel plant in Australia.
Possible Qantas equity stake?
Qantas CEO Alan Joyce is reported to be “putting on the pressure, for the team
to get on with it,” and Broschofsky said that Qantas has not ruled out taking
an investment stake in a biofuels enterprise, though he suggested that any decisions
would be taken after completion of feasibility work. He said that there continued
to be some uneasiness at the Qantas board level on the wisdom of entering the
biofuels sphere as an equity partner.
“Three or four years ago at IATA,” Broschofsky said, “biofuels weren’t even on
the radar; it was in the “too hard” category. But $180 per gallon fuel at the
wing (in 2008) got everyone’s attention – it was a real crisis.” He described
how Boeing galvanized the industry behind the development of the Bio-SPK jet fuel
specification, which most observers are predicting will be approved in the first
half of 2011 and possibly late in the first quarter.
“Watch the flood,” Broschofsky predicted, “after the fuel is certified, interest
will be at a fever pitch, and we want to get in ahead.” He detailed how it was
Boeing’s interest that brought Qantas into the biofuels arena, and Qantas in turn
galvanized broader support within IATA.
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The United flight is a Boeing 737-800 from Houston to Chicago, using 40% Solarzyme
fuel, with allegedly “sustainable” of unknown composition. The Alaska Airlines’
1st commercial biofuel flight is Seattle to Washington. Alaska & its sister,
Horizon Air, plan to fly 75 “selected” flights over the next few weeks using 20%
fuel made from used cooking oil (a gimmick, as there is so little of the stuff)
made by Dynamic Fuels. The fuel companies are in a race to scale up profitably.
This morning in Texas, United Airlines will operate the first U.S. commercial
flight powered by advanced biofuel, utilizing Solazyme Solajet fuel, on Monday,
UA Flight 1403 will depart from United’s hub at Bush Intercontinental Airport
(the heart of big oil) and fly to the airline’s hub at Chicago O’Hare International
Airport. The aircraft is a United Boeing 737-800 Eco-Skies aircraft, and Continental
pilots will be at the helm.
The flight departs Bush at 10:25 am CT from terminal C, and lands at Chicago
O’Hare at 1:01pm CT, typically arriving at United’s Terminal 1.
The fuel, produced by Solazyme, is a 40/60 blend of sustainable biofuel and traditional
petroleum-derived jet fuel. Solazyme’s renewable oils were upgraded into Solafuel
by Honeywell’s UOP.
Meanwhile, in Washington state, Alaska Airlines will launch the first commercial,
biofuel-powered regularly scheduled flight service in the United States on Wednesday,
November 9th. The flights will run from Seattle to Washington, D.C., and between
Seattle and Portland. The maiden flight will leave Seattle on November 9 to Washington,
Alaska Airlines will fly 75 commercial passenger flights in the United States,
in this series, powered by biofuel. Alaska Airlines and its sister carrier, Horizon
Air, will continue to operate select flights between Seattle and the two cities
over the next few weeks using a 20 percent blend of sustainable biofuel made from
used cooking oil that meets rigorous international safety and sustainability standards.
“This is a historic week for U.S. aviation. The 75 flights that Alaska Airlines
and Horizon Air will fly over the next few weeks reflect our longstanding commitment
to environmental responsibility and our belief that sustainable biofuels are key
to aviation’s future,” Alaska Air Group Chairman and CEO Bill Ayer said. “Commercial
airplanes are equipped and ready for biofuels. They will enable us to fly cleaner,
foster job growth in a new industry, and can insulate airlines from the volatile
price swings of conventional fuel to help make air travel more economical. What
we need is an adequate, affordable and sustainable supply. To the biofuels industry,
we say: If you build it, we will buy it.”
Used cooking oil – fry, the friendly skies
The flights – using a 20 percent biofuel blend, produced by Dynamic Fuels from
made used cooking oil. Alaska’s 75 flights are a major step in showing the long-term
feasibility of sustainable biofuels and will introduce Alaska’s customers to the
next generation of clean fuels.
It’s just about the ultimate renewable fuel feedstock – waste veggie oil, that
is. But there’s only so much used cooking oil around. Long-term, it’s a key smaller
component, but not a major driver of aviation biofuels at scale.
You’ve come a long way, baby
Just two years ago, Continental Airlines, also departing from Bush Intercontinental, operated the first US-based aviation
biofuels test flight, using an aviation biofuel made up of 50 percent conventional
fuel, 47 percent jatropha from Terasol, and 3 percent algae-based biofuel from Sapphire, working in partnership
In June, KLM Royal Dutch Airlines became the first airline in the world to operate a commercial flight carrying
171 passengers on aviation biofuels. Flight KL1233 – a Boeing 737-800 – took off
[this afternoon - sic] at 12:30 hours from Schiphol bound for Charles de Gaulle
in Paris carrying 171 passengers.
In July [no, it was delayed till October] , Thomson Airways announced that it would fly its Birmingham to Palma on 28th July 2011 using
sustainable aviation biofuels supplied by the KLM fuel consortium, SkyNRG. This
would be the first commercial flight from the UK flown using aviation biofuels.
Also in July, In Germany, Lufthansa became the world’s first airline to offer routine flights powered by biofuel.
The airline now operates four daily round trips between Hamburg and Frankfurt.
The Airbus A321 planes will use a biofuel blend of 50 percent hydrotreated renewable
jet fuel made from feedstocks such as inedible plants and wood chips.
Later that month, Finnair announced plans to operate flights powered by biofuel. The airline will operated
a biofuel flight between Amsterdam Schiphol and Helsinki in the week of July 18th,
using either an Airbus A319 or A320 aircraft. Both engines ran on a 50 percent
blend of biofuel produced from recycled vegetable oil and kerosene, and were refuelled
at Amsterdam Schiphol airport.
In September, Mexico’s largest airline, Aeromexico, began using a 25 percent biofuel mixture on its flights from Mexico City to
San Jose, Costa Rica.
In October, Spanish national airline Iberia Lineas Aereas de Espana SA flew the country’s first commercial flight using a 25% blend of biojet fuel
made from camelina. The inaugural flight using an Airbus A320 flew from Madrid
Last week, Air China in partnership with Boeing, conducted China’s first sustainable biofuel flight.
The two-hour mainland flight from Beijing Capital International Airport was witnessed
by officials from both countries and highlights the viability of using sustainable
aviation biofuel sourced in China. PetroChina, working with Honeywell’s UOP, sourced
and refined the China-grown, jatropha-based biofuel.
Aviation: a Quick Win for clean energy, biofuels
In Copenhagen last month, a coalition of companies and associations involved in aviation biofuels made
a strong case for the sector not only as a quick win for biofuels, but as a quick win for
clean energy as a whole.
Pitching Martin Lidegaard, the incoming Danish Minister for Climate, Energy and
Building over a working lunch, Paul Steele, executive director of the Air Transport
Action Group made the quick win case.
“Aviation is hard at work with a spectrum of activities to reduce environmental
impact. But we see aviation biofuels as a quick win. First, we have just 1700
airports as fuel points, versus distributing to and possibly retrofitting hundreds
of thousands of gas stations around the world. Second, aviation biofuels involve
no infrastructure change – they drop right into the existing engines. Third, you
have a sector that has done everything it can to do the flight tests, the certifications,
sustainability groups, and even participating with investment in biofuels, to
The case is strong. To convert 20 percent of road transport around the world
to biofuels – a threshold most would describe as a major clean energy “win” –
would take a transformative infusion of capital, and require the aggregation of
as much as 1.5 billion tons of biomass. The impact? Transformative. The logistics?
Daunting. The timelines? Awfully long for a public which feeds on 24-hour news
cycles and 1-2 year product life cycles.
By contrast, converting 20 percent of aviation to biofuels would transform modern
aviation, be a major signal that clean energy can work at scale, and offers a
model for developing R&D, certification and supply chain consortia. It would
take around 12 billion gallons of biofuels, and perhaps 120 million tons of biomass,
distributed to 1700 or so airports around the world.
Opportunities for scale
Companies that are producing aviation biofuels in test or commercial quantities
include a who’s who from the 50 Hottest Companies in Bioenergy: Solazyme, Amyris,
Sapphire Energy, Rentech, Gevo, Terrabon, Cobalt Technologies, ZeaChem and LanzaTech.
Solazyme has inked a deal with Qantas, Rentech has an off take agreement with
13 airlines. LanzaTech signed up with Virgin Airlines in recent weeks, while Gevo
has hooked up with United and Cobalt is producing test quantities of fuel for
the US Navy.
In California, AltAir Fuels plans to build a biojet plant in Bakersfield that
will begin producing fuel in 2012. As a result, farmers in the Central and San
Joaquin valleys are being encouraged to grow 25,000 acres of camelina under the
Biomass Crop Assistance Program.
Solena, meanwhile, has inked deals with SAS, Qantas and British Airways to develop
small commercial facilities producing 14-19 million gallons of aviation biofuels
from municipal waste in Sweden, Australia and the UK, and in July said that it
expects to put in a planning application in Gilroy, California for construction
of its first biojet facility sometime within the coming year. The company says
it still has a lot of development work to do on details and consultations with
the community before it asks for permission to build the 16 million gallon per
year, $350 million facility.
The race for low cost: who might win in the race for scale?
To make affordable jet fuel at scale (say, 50 million gallons as a reference
plant), someone is going to have to produce alcohol fuel at $1.25-$1.50 per gallon,
or renewable oils at around $2.50-$3.00 per gallon, and haul in something like
500,000 tons of biomass. That’s sourced from 625,000 acres or so of camelina,
75,000 acres of switchgrass or miscanthus, about 25,000 acres of hybrid poplar,
or 15,000 acres of algae.
Who has production costs and capacities in that range in the near term, say by
the time alcohol-to-jet is expected to be approved in 2014? On paper, there’s
Solena, Joule, Coskata, LanzaTech, Algenol, ZeaChem, and Rentech. Joule needs
to get its major demo running, and then is looking to scale in New Mexico. ZeaChem,
Coskata, and LanzaTech are furiously on the hustings to secure financing for
scale. Solena’s path to financing is still not fully clear, either. Now, Renetch
just raised a lot of dollars in the spin-off of Rentech Nitrogen, enough for
a scale-up in Mississippi. Leaving Algenol as a wild-card – could they lay in
15,000 acres or so of capacity by 2015? If so, they are a dark horse to grab first
mover advantage in this key segment.
Gevo, Solazyme, LS9 and Amyris off take will be generally shunted elsewhere for
some time to come – too many upside opportunities elsewhere. Sapphire Energy will
be scaling up later in the decade. Companies like Enerkem, Terrabon, Bluefire,
POET and Abengoa are more likely to focus on the road transport sector for now.
Other companies like Byogy will be brining forward development timelines in the
near future, but their path to scale and low-cost is not yet known.
How do you make jet fuel from alcohol?
We look at that, here.
The feedstock dilemma
For a (probably not complete) list of biofuel flights by commercial airlines
so far, see:
Continental Airlines flight is first in U.S. to use biofuel
The Boeing 737-800 burned jet fuel derived partially from genetically modified
algae that feed on plant waste and produce oil. United Continental Holdings plans
to buy 20 million gallons a year of biofuel made by California firm Solazyme.
November 11, 2011 ( Los Angeles Times)
Reporting from Chicago — Continental Airlines flight 1403 made history when it
landed at O’Hare International Airport in Chicago on Monday, becoming the first
revenue passenger trip in the U.S. powered by biofuel.
The Boeing 737-800 burned a “green jet fuel” derived partially from genetically
modified algae that feed on plant waste and produce oil.
In completing the flight from Houston, parent company United Continental Holdings
Inc. won by two days the competition to launch the first biofuel-powered air service
in the U.S.
On Wednesday, Alaska Airlines started 75 passenger flights along with its sister
airline, Horizon Air, that will take place over the next few weeks using a biofuel
blend made from recycled cooking oil. The 20% biofuel blend the planes will use
will reduce carbon dioxide emissions 10%, Alaska Airlines officials said.
More U.S. airlines are expected to join the effort to fly cleaner — and eventually
more economically — than the use of traditional petroleum-based Jet-A fuel allows,
based on a crude oil price of $100 a barrel or higher, experts said.
But there are questions regarding how long it will take for biofuel to become
an economical alternative to traditional fuel and what the cost will be for the
financially struggling aviation industry.
Boeing Co. projects, for example, small-scale commercial production of new biofuels
derived from algae, sewage sludge or municipal waste beginning in as soon as three
United announced Monday that it had signed a letter of intent with Solazyme Inc.
of South San Francisco, which provided the biofuel for the Continental flight,
to buy 20 million gallons of algae-derived biofuel annually. Delivery will start
as early as 2014, officials said.
The move comes four months after international aviation regulators approved the
use of biofuels. In recent weeks, several airlines in Europe have operated biofuel-powered
flights. KLM Royal Dutch Airlines in June became the first airline in the world
to operate a commercial flight on biofuels.
Part of the beauty of using advanced biofuels is that no modifications are needed
to commercial airplanes; the biofuels are a drop-in replacement for high-octane
Jet-A, officials said.
“You don’t have any difference at all in terms of performance of the airplane
or operations by the pilot,” said Capt. Jackson Seltzer, a 25-year Continental
veteran who flew Monday’s flight to O’Hare from Bush International Airport in
The 737 was fueled with 60% traditional petroleum-based jet fuel and 40% aviation
biofuel made from algal oil, officials said.
The technology converts inedible natural oils and wastes into a more environmentally
friendly jet fuel that offers as much as an 85% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions
compared with fossil fuels, officials said.
United officials declined to estimate how long it would take to integrate alternative
fuels into their system, but they noted that the airline used 3.3 billion gallons
of Jet-A in 2010 at a cost of about $13.5 billion.
Pete McDonald, United Airlines’ executive vice president and chief operations
officer, said the cost of Monday’s biofuel flight was “about the same” as a regular
The 20 million gallons that United plans to buy from Solazyme represents 0.6%
of the airline’s jet fuel consumption, said Jimmy Samartzis, United’s managing
director of global environment affairs and sustainability.
“The bottom line for us is this is another example of actions that are needed
to be taken to commercialize advanced biofuel production,” Samartzis said.
Solazyme officials, who dubbed their algae-derived fuel Solajet, shared the optimism.
“We founded the company in a garage in Palo Alto eight years ago,” said Harrison
Dillon, Solazyme’s president and chief technology officer. “Today is a historic
day and we’ve come a long way, but we have a lot of growth ahead.”
Fuel accounts for the largest segment, 36%, of airline industry operating costs,
according to the International Air Transport Assn.
The aviation sector, which was responsible for 2% of total carbon dioxide emissions
in 2000, will increase its share to 3% by 2030, according to research by McKinsey
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