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.
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.
(Reuters) – United Airlines, the world’s largest air carrier, will make the first
U.S. commercial flight using an “advanced biofuel” on Monday, algae-based biofuel
maker Solazyme Inc said.
The flight from Houston to Chicago will take the Boeing 737-800 from the former
home city of Continental Airlines to the base of United, which took over Continental
last year to form United Continental Holdings Inc.
The Solajet fuel blend includes 60 percent petroleum-based jet fuel and 40 percent
biofuel, Solazyme said.
Shares of South San Francisco-based Solazyme were floated on Nasdaq in May, but
have nearly halved in value since then as prospects for its industry have dimmed
along with the broader economy, given its reliance on government funding.
Race for scale: United, Alaska Airlines launch commercial aviation biofuels flights
by Jim Lane
7.11.2011 (Biofuels Digest)
United and Solazyme, Alaska and Dynamic Fuels hook up, as producers scramble
to make fuel, raise cash, ratchet down costs.
Will producers scale, or fail?
In recent weeks, aviation biofuel enthusiasts have noted the commencement of
biofuels-powered commercial flights in France, Germany, the Netherlands, Spain
and Mexico, and asked when the US-developed technology would finally operate on
a commercial basis in the US. Alaska Airlines stepped up to answer the call in
partnership with Dynamic Fuels, only to find that United has teamed up with Solazyme
to snatch the prize for first flight.
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.
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.
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
This is an article by the body that promotes Indonesian palm oil. So it is ludicrously
biased in favour of using as much palm oil as possible, making as much money as
possible, and to hell with the consequences. It hugely plays down environmental
impacts of growing palm oil and talks about doubling existing palm oil growing
in order to provide 1% of all aviation fuel by 2015. And then an extra 1% added
each year, up to 12% when Indonesia grows double its current amount. And up to
For many years, the aviation industry has been criticized for its high carbon
GHG emission. Of the total global emissions, 56 % comes from burning of fossil
fuels and 17 % from agriculture. The aviation industry alone contributes 649,000,000
tonnes of GHG emission annually which represents 2 to 3 % of the total globally!
The Boeing Company and other aviation industry operators held a Forum in Kuala
Lumpur recently to explore new sources of renewable biofuels for the aviation
In comparison, calculations reveal that emissions from the oil palm industry
are indeed very small. The world oil palm area of 14 million hectares is only
0.25% of global agricultural land. Therefore, the GHG emission from the oil palm
industry is 0.25% x 17% or 0.04% of the total global GHG emission. At the country
level, Malaysia’s oil palm cultivated area of 4.85 million hectares represents
34.6% of the world’s oil palm cultivated area and hence its GHG footprint is 34.6%
x 0.04 % or 0.014% of the global GHG emission. Even doubling the cultivated area
for oil palm in Malaysia would see a negligible increase of its GHG footprint
to 0.028% of global emission.
The negligibly small GHG footprint of the oil palm industry has attracted the
aviation industry operators (hence their presence in Kuala Lumpur for the Forum)
to consider the use of palm oil biofuel to help reduce emission levels from the
aviation industry. As indicated above, doubling the production of palm oil in
Malaysia will not add much to the carbon footprint of the oil palm industry, instead,
it will provide 18 million tonnes or 8.6 billion gallons more of potential jet
biofuel. Total consumption of aviation fuel per year is estimated at 70 billion
gallons. A 12 % replacement of the world aviation biofuel can be achieved if the
Malaysian production can be doubled to cater to this demand.
The road map for inclusion of biofuel in aviation fuel begins modestly with an
initial blend share of 1 % by 2015. This could be increased gradually with an
improvement of 1% additional biofuel in the fuel blend annually so that GHG emissions
will be maintained at current levels despite exponential growth in future global
air travels. Malaysian palm oil potentially fits the road map due to its ability
to replace a moderate (12%) percentage of world aviation biofuel demand. Palm
oil from other sources could also be considered until a long term plan by the
aviation industry to meet its target replacement of 50% blend of biofuel in aviation
fuel is achieved.
Such large demand for bio-renewable aviation fuel can be supplemented if the
biomass generated by the oil palm industry can be harnessed for conversion into
aviation biofuel. Palm oil makes up only 10 % of the biomass produced by the oil
palm tree. The remaining 90% (dry weight basis) can be partly converted into biofuel
using BTL technology or bio-refinery which is being developed rapidly around the
Only palm oil can provide a solution for practical consideration. Other oilseeds
cannot produce the quantities envisaged because of the inherent low yield per
hectare per year of between 5 to 11 times less than that of palm oil.
Figure 1 below shows countries capable of supplying excess vegetable oil into
the world market which are limited to Malaysian and Indonesian palm oil producers.
With doubling of production through productivity and hectarage expansion, and
employing other palm biomass for further conversion into aviation fuel, the availability
could well meet the future target of having 50% blend of biofuel into the aviation
Palm oil meets the certification criteria for sustainability as many producers
in Malaysia have volunteered to participate in the certification schemes and have
obtained their certificates from certifying bodies such as the RSPO and ISCC.
A minor obstacle to the successful implementation of the aviation biofuel plan
is the relatively high cost of biofuel in comparison to petroleum derived aviation
fuel. Lack of an excess supply from other vegetable oils and a high demand for
palm oil for food will cause market forces to price palm oil above petroleum fuel.
Otherwise, palm oil will be burned as fuel. This will ensure that its price will
remain above the price of petroleum fuel and petroleum price will be the floor
price for palm and other vegetable oils.
With the planned expansion of oil palm production, the necessary increase in
supply to meet the needs of the aviation industry can be achieved. The food versus
fuel debate does not apply as the main consideration is which profitable crop
to plant on a scarce available agricultural land (large areas of degraded land
not under forest reserves) where oil palm can be grown. Non-food oil crops such
as jatropha can also be grown on degraded land but it yields only 20 % that of
oil palm and is far more expensive to produce thus making it a much less attractive
Consumers worldwide must be willing to pay the cost to reduce carbon GHG emission
from the aviation industry. Plans by EU to impose carbon tax on the aviation sector
are a step in the right direction. It is imperative that the money raised goes
to compensate farmers who toil to produce the extra supply of raw material for
the aviation fuel industry. Currently, much emphasis has been placed on the certification
process for sustainability that the administrative charge consumes up to 80% of
the money raised to incentivize the production of renewable biofuel. Ironically,
the cost for employing auditors and paying for membership fee of certification
bodies is more than the rate of compulsory research funding imposed on the Malaysian
palm oil industry!
New opportunities for an increased supply of palm oil based aviation biofuel
can be realised through more research and allocation of funds. However, if the
cost of certification is higher than the investment in research, and if the carbon
tax benefits only the bureaucracy, this will result in a slow development of aviation
biofuel from oil palm sources. Development of aviation biofuel from other vegetable
oils will be next to impossible. Oil palm is the only viable solution in the long
The choice is limited for the aviation industry. It cannot harness hydro, wind
or solar power to fly jet planes. Most other plant biomass has low output to input
energy ratio of 3:1 compared to 9:1 for oil palm. Oil palm is the best and only
choice so far until miracles occur or algae technology becomes successful. Even
petroleum fuel is not the most viable choice in the long term; its supply is finite
and the topping point curve (Fig 2) shows that supply will start to decline in
a few years from its peak. By then almost everything will be expensive except
sustainably produced raw materials such as palm oil if future development in production
capacity is well planned with adequate upfront investment in R & D.
New study by Leicester University suggests EU biofuels are as carbon intensive
Date Added: 5th November 2011
The new study was conducted for the International Council on Clean Transportation,
an international think tank that wished to assess the greenhouse gas emissions
associated with biodiesel production. Biodiesel mandates increase palm oil demand,
and more is now being imported by the EU from Indonesia. The study found the scale
of greenhouse gas emissions from oil palm plantations on peat is significantly
higher than previously assumed.
The new study was conducted for the International Council on Clean Transportation,
an international think tank that wished to assess the greenhouse gas emissions
associated with biodiesel production. Biodiesel mandates increase palm oil demand,
and more is now being imported by the EU from Indonesia. The study found the scale
of greenhouse gas emissions from oil palm plantations on peat is significantly
higher than previously assumed – about 80 tonnes, rather than 50 tonnes of carbon
per hectare per year.
A new study on greenhouse gas emissions from oil palm plantations has calculated
a more than 50% increase in levels of CO2 emissions than previously thought – and warned that the demand for ‘green’ biofuels
could be costing the earth.
The study from the University of Leicester was conducted for the International
Council on Clean Transportation, an international think tank that wished to assess
the greenhouse gas emissions associated with biodiesel production. Biodiesel mandates can increase palm oil
demand directly (the European Biodiesel Board recently reported big increases
in biodiesel imported from Indonesia) and also indirectly, because palm oil is
the world’s most important source of vegetable oil and will replace oil from rapeseed
or soy in food if they are instead used to make biodiesel.
The University of Leicester researchers carried out the first comprehensive literature
review of the scale of greenhouse gas emissions from oil palm plantations on tropical peatland in Southeast Asia. In contrast
to previous work, this study also provides an assessment of the scientific methods
used to derive emissions estimates.
They discovered that many previous studies were based on limited data without
appropriate recognition of uncertainties and that these studies have been used
to formulate current biofuel policies.
The Leicester team established that the scale of greenhouse gas emissions from
oil palm plantations on peat is significantly higher than previously assumed.
They concluded that a value of 86 tonnes of carbon dioxide (CO2) per hectare per year (annualised over 50 years) is the most robust currently
available estimate; this compares with previous estimates of around 50 tonnes
of carbon dioxide (CO2) per hectare per year.
CO2 emissions increase further if you are interested specifically in the short term
greenhouse gas implications of palm oil production – for instance under the EU
Renewable Energy Directive which assesses emissions over 20 years, the corresponding
emissions rate would be 106 tonnes of carbon dioxide (CO2) per hectare per year.
The findings have been published as an International White Paper from the ICCT.
Ross Morrison, of the University of Leicester Department of Geography, said:
“Although the climate change impacts of palm oil production on tropical peatland
are becoming more widely recognised, this research shows that estimates of emissions
have been drawn from a very limited number of scientific studies, most of which
have underestimated the actual scale of emissions from oil palm. These results
show that biofuels causing any significant expansion of palm on tropical peat
will actually increase emissions relative to petroleum fuels. When produced in
this way, biofuels do not represent a sustainable fuel source”.
Dr Sue Page, Reader in Physical Geography at the University of Leicester, added:
“Tropical peatlands in Southeast Asia are a globally important store of soil carbon
– exceeding the amount stored in tropical forest vegetation. They are under enormous
pressure from plantation development. Projections indicate an increase in oil palm plantations on peat to a total area
of 2.5Mha by the year 2020 in western Indonesia alone –an area equivalent in size to the land area of the United Kingdom.”
Growth in palm oil production has been a key component of meeting growing global
demand for biodiesel over recent decades.
This growth has been accompanied by mounting concern over the impact of the oil
palm business on tropical forests and carbon dense peat swamp forests in particular.
Tropical peatland is one of Earth’s largest and most efficient carbon sinks. Development
of tropical peatland for agriculture and plantations removes the carbon sink capacity
of the peatland system with large carbon losses arising particularly from enhanced
peat degradation and the loss of any future carbon sequestration by the native
peat swamp forest vegetation.
Although there have been a number of assessments on greenhouse gas emissions
from palm oil production systems, estimates of greenhouse gas emissions from land
use have all been based on the results of a limited number of scientific studies.
A general consensus has emerged that emissions from peat degradation have not
yet been adequately accounted for.
Conditions at a mature oil palm plantation site, 18 years after conversion: (left
image) open canopy (causing increased soil temperatures), limited ground cover
(causing lowered soil moisture content), intensive fertilization (white patches
around palm trunks), and (right image) a loose top soil structure (leaning oil
The results of the Leicester study are important because an increase in the greenhouse
gas emissions associated with biodiesel from palm oil, even if expansion on peat
only occurs indirectly, will negate any savings relative to the use of diesel
derived from fossil fuel.
If these improved estimates are applied to recent International Food Policy Research
Institute modelling of the European biofuel market , they imply that on average
biofuels in Europe will be as carbon intensive as petrol , with all biodiesel
from food crops worse than fossil diesel and the biggest impact being a 60% increase
in the land use emissions resulting from palm oil biodiesel. Bioethanol or biodiesel
from waste cooking oil, on the other hand, could still offer carbon savings.
This outcome has important implications for European Union policies on climate
and renewable energy sources.
Dr Sue Page said: “It is important that the full greenhouse gas emissions ‘cost’
of biofuel production is made clear to the consumer, who may otherwise be mislead
into thinking that all biofuels have a positive environmental impact. In addition
to the high greenhouse gas emissions associated with oil palm plantations on tropical
peatlands, these agro-systems have also been implicated in loss of primary rainforest
and associated biodiversity, including rare and endangered species such as the
orang-utan and Sumatran tiger.
Oil palm plantations on peat: note the leaning trunks owing to low load-bearing
capacity of peat soils.
“We are very excited by the outcomes of our research – our study has already
been accepted and used by several scientists, NGOs, economists and policy advisors
in Europe and the USA to better represent the scale of greenhouse gas emissions
from palm oil biodiesel production and consumption.
“The findings of this research will be used by organisations such as the US Environmental
Protection Agency, European Commission and California Air Resources Board to more
fully account for greenhouse gas emissions and their uncertainties from biofuel
produced from palm oil. This is essential in identifying the least environmentally damaging biofuel
production pathways, and the formulation of national and international biofuel
and transportation policies.”
Dr Chris Malins of the ICCT said, “Peat degradation under oil palm is a major source of emissions from biodiesel production. Recognising that emissions
are larger than previously thought will help regulators such as the US Environmental
Protection Agency (EPA), European Commission (EC) and California Air Resources
Board (CARB) identify which biofuel pathways are likely to lead to sustainable greenhouse gas emissions reductions”.
Subsidence pole inserted in peatland in Johor, peninsular Malaysia. The pole
was inserted beside an oil palm plantation in 1978 and at the time of this photograph
(2007), 2.3 m of subsidence had occurred (the human “measuring stick,” Dr. Chris
Banks, is 2 meters tall).
Sir David Rowlands, in a speech to the AOA criticised the industry’s obsession
with flaunting its green credentials via announcements about biofuel flights.
He said airlines and airports are failing to engage with environmental groups.
‘What it does not mean is lone voices shouting ‘hey – look at us we have just
flown one of our aircraft on chip fat!’ Just look at the reaction from environmental
commentators to what has been happening with biofuels.’
Gatwick chairman: aviation industry in ‘dialogue of deaf’ with green groups
Gatwick chairman David Rowlands said aviation companies need to show how they
can reduce carbon emissions
The aviation industry is mired in a “dialogue of the deaf” with the environmental
lobby and is failing to set out a roadmap for tackling climate change, according
to the chairman of Gatwick Airport.
Sir David Rowlands said the sector invested too much effort in relaying facts
– such as its contribution to global warming – rather than setting out how it
will make meaningful contributions to carbon dioxide reduction. Criticising the
industry’s obsession with flaunting its green credentials via announcements about
biofuel flights, Rowlands warned that airlines and airports are failing to engage
with environmental groups.
“What it does not mean is lone voices shouting ‘hey – look at us we have just
flown one of our aircraft on chip fat!’ That is not a dialogue. Unless what you
want is a dialogue of the deaf. Just look at the reaction from environmental commentators
to what has been happening recently with biofuels.”
Rowlands, former permanent secretary at the Department for Transport, has emerged
alongside International Airlines Group’s Willie Walsh as the industry’s most vocal
critic of government aviation policy. This year he dismissed as “total nonsense” the government’s argument that a high-speed rail link can mitigate the ban on
a third runway at Heathrow.
However, in a speech at the annual conference of the Airport Operators Association
today, Rowlands will turn his fire on a private sector that struggles to muster
a united voice on the environment owing to the daily competitive cut-and-thrust
between its constituents. “This industry needs to work together and speak with
one voice if it is to have any hope of a grown up dialogue.”
Rowlands believes the aviation industry, which accounts for about 6% of UK carbon
dioxide emissions, is inviting criticism by failing to outline ways in which it
can alleviate rising greenhouse gas emissions. Urging the industry to sit down
with “the more responsible end” of the green movement, he said airlines, airports
and airplane makers needed to answer the “what next” question that any significant
CO2 emitter must answer.
“We need to show that we are ready to work towards solutions which reasonable
and pragmatic people on both sides of the environmental debate can agree upon.”
In a challenge to the Sustainable Aviation body, the industry green group whose
backers include British Airways and Heathrow owner BAA, he said the organisation
needed to be better funded and independent from its founders.
“It needs to be independent – and seen to be independent – of any particular
set of aviation interests. And it means this industry willingly accepting a more
collective approach, agreeing to focus its efforts for the collective good and
starting a real dialogue with people who are genuinely concerned about our impact
on the environment.”
An Air China Boeing 747-400 took off from the Beijing airport, flew for 2 hours,
and landed back at Beijing. It used 50% jatropha. This is one of a series of
research projects launched last year by the US and China, the world’s two biggest
oil consumers. The fuel was developed by Boeing, Honeywell UOP, Chinese oil company
PetroChina and Air China. They say a commercial biofuel should be available in
three to five years.
BEIJING — A Boeing jumbo jet powered by fuel made from oily nuts made a two-hour
test flight Friday as part of a U.S.-Chinese renewable energy partnership.
The fuel, based on the oily nuts of the jatropha tree, is one of a series of
research projects launched last year by the United States and China, the world’s
two biggest oil consumers. The two governments say they want the research to reduce
pollution and spur the growth of new industries.
The fuel was developed by Boeing, Honeywell UOP, Chinese oil company PetroChina
and Air China. They say a commercial biofuel should be available in three to five
Government and company officials watched as an Air China Boeing 747-400 powered
by a mix of half biofuel and half standard aviation fuel took off from the Beijing
airport and flew for two hours before landing at the same field.
“This is a very important step. It is a milestone for the Chinese airline industry,”
said He Li, an Air China vice president. “It will help us a lot to reduce carbon
emissions and provide us more choices for aviation fuel.”
Boeing said earlier that the goal of the research is to develop biofuel that
can be used in commercial jetliners with no engine modifications. The company
said last year four test flights with biofuel had been flown in the United States.
Boeing Co and its Brazilian counterpart Embraer have joined forces with Brazilian
Fapesp, to map out how best to expand the use of biofuels for jet engines from
renewable sources such as sugar cane. They are aware of criticisms about biofuel
not helping with global warming. They say they don’t want feedstocks that are
also food crops. A 9-month study will look at the potential feedstocks and their
large-scale commercial challenges and advantages.
* Boeing to partner with jet biofuel marketing companies
* Global jet kerosene mkt 60 billion gallon/yr
* Research focusing on only “totally drop-in biokerosene”
By Reese Ewing
SAO PAULO, U.S. planemaker Boeing Co and its Brazilian counterpart Embraer
have joined forces to map out how best to expand the use of biofuels for jet engines
from renewable sources such as sugar cane.
With the Sao Paulo State Scientific Research Federation (Fapesp), the two companies signed an agreement on Wednesday to construct a research center
in Brazil that will study the infrastructure, transport and global marketing of
biokerosene for the industry that has become increasingly sensitive to public
attempts to brand it as an agent of global warming.
“This is not just a gesture. This is a serious investigation in what biofuels
will be viable for this industry going forward,” Boeing International Chief Executive
Shep Hill said. “We chose Brazil because of its strengths in biomass and this
type of fuel stock.”
Brazil has a 30-year-plus history in large-scale commercial sugar cane biofuel
production, distribution and marketing. It is also a major biodiesel producer
from vegetable oils. Hill added, however, that Boeing was also involved in algae-based
biofuel research in the Middle East and in jatropha-based research in Asia.
He stressed that biofuels had met all of the technical requirements of the highly
demanding aviation fuel industry and jet engine makers, including GE , Rolls-Royce
“We don’t want feedstocks that are also food crops and we are only interested
in developing a completely drop-in biofuel alternatives. We don’t want any modifications
required to the engines or planes,” he said.
This particular requirement is a testament to how far commercial biofuels have
advanced over the years. Companies such as California-based biotech firm Amyris
are coming up with commercially viable ways to produce all sorts of fuels and
chemical products from organic matter.
Hill said that Boeing did not plan to market any biokerosene in the future but
it was interested in forming partners that would carry out that market function
of buying and selling the green aviation fuel.
The partnership between the world’s No. 1 and No. 3 aircraft manufacturers also
highlights the commercial airline sector’s interest in diversifying its fuel supply
in the roughly 60 billion gallon-a-year aviation kerosene market, while reducing
its carbon footprint as well.
“Actually, aviation only accounts for 2 percent of all carbon emission from the
transport [wrong – the industry gives a figure of 2% of all human carbon emissions, and
that does not take into account radiative forcing effects. More likely impact
is 4 – 5%. And international aviation bunkers were about 6.5% of all transport
fuel in 2009. See below] around the world, but we still want to lower that imprint, as citizens of the
world. But especially, since there are people who blame the industry for more
than that (share),” Hill said.
The American Society for Testing and Materials, which serves as a scientific
standards body for the airline industry, has approved the use of up to 50 percent
biokerosene in aviation.
The agreement between Boeing, Embraer and Fapesp will start with a nine-month
gap study or road map on all of the potential feedstocks and their large-scale
commercial challenges and advantages. This will then determine the capital and
dimensions of the research center that will be built, Fapesp councilwoman Suely
“With all of the technical specifications of the biofuel resolved, the main question
we will be looking to answer is ‘what is the price point of the biofuel versus
conventional aviation fuel?'” Hill said. “Demand is not a problem. It far outstrips
supply at this point.”
This may end up being a major obstacle. Brazil can’t even produce sufficient
cane ethanol supplies at present to come close to meeting demand from its flex-fuel
car fleet that is growing bigger every month.
The air transport industry may be deluding itself if it believes biofuels are
the panacea for carbon footprint reduction. High fuel costs as well as competing
demand make it unlikely that biojet will deliver the promised CO2 reductions within
a desired timeframe. It is unclear even how the targets for road transport biodiesel
will be met. Many biofuels have a carbon footprint not much better than fossil
fuels, even without indirect land use impact.
When it comes to operating airliners with a biofuel blend, it is becoming difficult
to find a name-brand airline that has not conducted a demonstration flight. The
problem is, it may all be for naught.
Air France recently completed a trial, as have Lufthansa, KLM, Iberia and a raft
of others. All tout the carbon dioxide savings these flights—or in some cases
longer-running trials—are achieving.
But the air transport industry may be deluding itself if it believes biofuels
are the panacea for carbon footprint reduction, at least for this decade and possibly
beyond. High fuel costs as well as competing demand make it unlikely that biojet
will deliver the promised carbon dioxide reductions within a desired timeframe.
Already, road transport’s demand for biodiesel is growing so rapidly that it
is not clear where the supply will come from to meet 2020 targets, says John Cooper,
director of transport policy at BP. Availability of sufficient feedstock is “a
major concern,” he notes.
What is more, many biofuels have a carbon footprint that is not much better than fossil fuels and, with regulators looking to impose an indirect land-use charge to account
for the fact that food is not produced, the prospects for biojet are dimmed further.
Cooper fears that vegetable oil-based biojet is likely “a blind alley.”
Fuels from waste products are more attractive, he says, but much of the work
to commercialize those is not far enough advanced.
With biojet costs about double what airlines pay for kerosene, it makes more
sense for carriers to simply purchase carbon credits in an emissions trading system
(ETS) than spending money on biojet. At current prices, biojet use would equate to more than €300 ($410) per metric
ton of carbon, far above the ETS market rate, which is currently below €12. Airlines
are still betting on biofuel, though, in part to burnish their “green” credentials.
Efforts are under way in Europe to address the issue, principally the European
Commission-backed biofuels flightpath that has as its goal production of 2 million
tons of sustainable biofuel by 2020. However, there is some doubt that the cost
curve can change significantly. In the case of many technologies it is difficult
to see how costs will come down, Cooper says.
If airlines are serious about achieving carbon-neutral growth by 2020, it is
all the more troubling, then, that their involvement in the European Union’s emissions
trading system is so precarious. The EU’s decision to include all airlines that
land in or depart from member states is not just garnering increasing vocal opposition
from outsiders, but threatens to become a nasty international battle.
European airlines, despite their misgivings about elements of the ETS, would
not want to see its total demise, because if this attempt at a cap-and-trade system
fails it might be replaced with more draconian measures, such as additional taxes, warns British Airways’ head of environmental affairs, Jonathan Counsell. “By
taking too big a first step, it is taking us backward,” he says.
Even though a European legal authority has deemed the system legitimate—a formal
verdict from the European Court of Justice and U.K. high court is still pending—opposition
is mounting. Russia is considering legislation that would bar its airlines from
complying, mirroring language proposed in the U.S. Congress.
Moreover, Indian officials are expected to bring a recently adopted resolution
opposing the EU policy before the International Civil Aviation Organization’s
council, where 36 members convene; 21 are signatories to the Indian declaration
against the ETS. The majority could force a vote and have ICAO formally adopt
the declaration, although it is unclear what the next move would be if that happens.
There is a sense among ETS watchers that ICAO and the EU may try to impede a
vote, fearful that it would expose deep divisions with the airline governing body.
ETS backers have stated that the international community is not negotiating in
good faith. Tim Johnson, director of the Aviation Environment Federation, believes the ETS is a good deal for airlines. He argues that “It would be a
lot easier for Europe to negotiate with countries outside its borders if they
had a credible alternative in place.”
European carriers feel caught in the middle. “We are concerned about retaliatory
actions,” warns British Airways CEO Keith Williams, adding, that is why “we are
lobbying the EU and member states to find a solution.”
What will happen with the EU policy on airlines and ETS is far from certain.
Italy has already presented a proposal to the EU council—where member states rule—proposing
the measure be set aside until international issues are ironed out. The European
Commission and parliament would have to agree, with opposition from the latter
body seen as probable.
No specific compromise has been put forward, although limiting the extent of
the carbon emissions airlines are required to account for in EU airspace-only
is again being considered.
That could help placate some foreign airlines that are generally supportive of
a cap-and-trade program. Under the current approach, passengers flying long-haul from Europe have a higher
carbon bill when flying direct than connecting via a hub outside the ETS. That irks the likes of Cathay Pacific Airways, who believe the airline is put
at a competitive disadvantage with its Middle East rivals, which route traffic
via hubs in Dubai and Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates; and Doha, Qatar. Mark Watson, head of environmental affairs at Cathay Pacific, points out that
a direct flight between Hong Kong and London is 16% shorter than flying via Dubai,
but the carbon cost is 75% higher. Such distortions would be eliminated under
a viable cap-and-trade plan.
The issues raging around the ETS will certainly not be settled this year, in
part because the court process will not have been completed.
And 2012 will see the industry turning its attention, again, to the often-touted
goal of a global approach. ICAO is developing a standard for commercial aircraft CO2 emissions, to be ready
in 2013. As part of the process, using market-based measures to greater advantage is being
Much work must be done by then though, because last year’s ICAO general assembly
meeting failed to resolve the global controversy.
A first step to reinvigorating discussions is due before year-end, when ICAO
invokes a “de minimis clause.” This would exclude some carriers who hail from
countries that contribute less than 1% of revenue passenger kilometers. The measure
is an effort to protect aerospace in emerging nations.
But even that issue is not without controversy. Tim Johnson warns that the exclusion level being proposed is too high, leaving carriers
from only 22 countries in the system. What is more, airlines competing with excluded
carriers also would likely seek exclusion on the grounds of a balanced competitive
Meanwhile, there are other methods airlines are working on to reduce CO2 output.
The Air France demonstration flight this month between Toulouse and Paris, for
instance, generated a large part of its savings through improved operations, including
continuous descent approaches and optimized air traffic management. Those initiatives
are gaining traction globally, as are efforts to shorten flight routes.
Given the debate roiling around biofuels and the ETS, other efforts will need
to be sought, perfected and implemented ever more broadly and quickly.
Air France has flown an Airbus A321 passenger aircraft from Toulouse to Paris
Orly airport (354 miles) with a fuel mix comprising 50% used cooking oil in both
engines. They claim this was the “greenest” ever, due to the low carbon fuel,
and due to helpful air traffic control and continuous descent approach (CDA) the
plane flew the shortest available route. All this may have cut CO2 emissions to
54 grams per passenger per kilometre, about half the usual level.
Air France SA today flew an Airbus A321 passenger aircraft from Toulouse to Paris’s
Orly airport with a fuel mix comprising 50 percent used cooking oil.
The 80-minute, 354-mile (570-kilometer) journey was the world’s greenest commercial
flight, Toulouse, France-based Airbus said today in an e-mailed statement.
Besides using biofuel, the plane, which can carry more than 200 passengers, flew
the shortest available route using a more- efficient continuous descent approach,
Airbus said. That helped cut in half the overall emissions of carbon dioxide,
according to the statement.
Airlines on July 1 won approval from ASTM International, the U.S. technical standards
body, to fly passenger planes using fuel made from inedible plants and organic
waste mixed with petroleum-derived fuel. Approval allows for blends of up to 50
percent biofuel. Since then, airlines including Deutsche Lufthansa AG and Finnair
Oyj have flown using such blends.
More efficient air traffic management could result in a decrease of 10 percent
in aircraft fuel consumption, according to the statement, as well as “significant”
reductions in CO2 and noise emissions.
French carrier Air France and aircraft manufacturer Airbus have completed the
world’s greenest commercial flight by combining the latest fuel and air traffic
management (ATM) technologies, the companies announced this week.
A flight from Toulouse-Blagnac to Paris-Orly, using an Airbus A321 had been able
to demonstrate the halving of the carbon dioxide (CO2) emitted by the aircraft, compared with a regular flight.
The commercial flight combined for the first time the use of a mixture comprising
half biofuels in each engine, optimised ATM and efficient continuous descent approach
(CDA) to reduce CO2 emissions.
Combining these technologies helped half the overall CO2 emissions to 54 grams per passenger per kilometre. This was equivalent to a
fuel efficiency of 2.2 l of fuel per passenger over 100 km.
“We are proud of the success achieved by this innovative project, which is a
synthesis of our many initiatives in the area of sustainable development. This
fully optimised green flight was further proof of Air France’s commitment to combine
air transport growth with controlled CO2 emissions,” Air France executive VP for organisation and corporate social responsibility Bertrand Lebel said in a statement.
“This flight was the perfect example of Airbus’ global approach towards continuously
reducing aviation’s CO2 footprint. This is not just a biofuel flight but the first flight that really
puts into practice elements in the Airbus roadmap, such as biofuels, optimised
ATM and green navigation,” head of Airbus environmental affairs Andrea Debbane added.
Biofuel is one solution for reducing overall CO2 emissions. Airbus’ alternative fuel strategy is to speed up its commercialisation
through sustainable biofuel value chains. Owing to several test flights and collaboration
with the fuels standards bodies, the use of 50% biofuel blends have been authorised
in commercial flights.
Further, a more efficient ATM system could also help reduce the amount of fuel
burned by aircraft and therefore the CO2 emitted. Airbus said it strongly supported the streamlining of ATM and has launched
a new subsidiary company, called ‘Airbus ProSky’, dedicated to the development
and support of modern ATM systems to achieve the highest operational efficiencies
with more direct routings, resulting in around 10% less aircraft fuel consumption,
as well as significant reductions in CO2 and noise emissions.
Meanwhile, CDA was becoming more widespread as a way to reduce fuel burn. During
a CDA procedure, the aircraft would descend continuously, avoiding level flight
prior to the final approach and requiring significantly less engine thrust and
therefore less fuel burn.
This is a comment from Jeff Gazzard, from the Aviation Environment Federation,
responsing to the Guardian’s page entitled “Are biofuel flights good news for
the environment?” It’s worth the read!
It comes after both the Thomson flight on 6th October, using 50% used cooking
oil in one engine (Thomson link) – and the announcement on 11th October that Virgin hopes to get fuel supplies
from the waste gases emitted from steel production. (Virgin link)
The main purpose behind Thomson’s flight from Birmingham last week was to test
one engine in isolation on a waste cooking oil-derived biofuel from a food processing
factory in the United States. This will give them an important insight into any
maintenance or engineering issues that may arise, which is a sensible test programme
in my view.
Of course there are PR objectives but at least Thomson are willing to discuss
the issues surrounding sustainability and I went along to this event at Birmingham
airport where I learnt 2 things:
1. Thomson rejected one type of fuel produced at the US plant, which belongs
to Tyson Foods, made from rendered animal waste, tallow, as unsustainable because
of land use pressures back up the meat production chain. This is a decision I
can understand and support
2. There is not, and never will be, enough waste cooking oil to make even the
smallest of dents in aviation’s carbon footprint!
Right now, aviation biofuel is simply a PR-led device to frame the debate and
divert attention away from the other 99.9% of aviation’s damaging CO2 emissions.
Just look at today’s announcement from our very own Knight of Biofuel PR, Sir
Richard Branson. Very soon apparently, giant machines will suck the effluent gases
from steel making into huge chambers; then extract the carbon monoxide from this
mix and turn this gas into alcohol; and then into sustainable aviation biofuel.
In the last few years, Branson has touted sustainable aviation biofuel from the
babassu nut, a South American palm: whatever happend to that route, Richard?
We then had an investment in a company called Gevo who claim to be able to make
cheap bio-butanol and then turn that into a jet fuel. How many litres of sustainable
biofuel have yet reached your Virgin Atlantic aircraft from this supplier, Richard?
Sir Richard may yet wish to investigate whether base metals can be turned into
gold. He may have more success.
Let’s look at some facts.
One potential aviation biofuel supplier is the US-based company, Solazyme. Solazyme’s
technology, which uses algae to convert biomass to oil using indirect photosynthesis,
once scaled up full commercial production, could supply around 50-100 million
US gallons per year of cost-competitive jet biofuel in the $60-80 a barrel range,
according to media coverage. Solazyme already has in place contracts with the
US Navy and Air Force to supply its’ jet biofuel product.
Some mathematics – the entire aviation industry would require at least 2810 million
barrels by 2030 at current growth rates. At 42 gallons per barrel that’s roughly
118,000 million gallons. Solazyme could provide 0.08% of that annual requirement.
It will have to get cracking, as Solazyme currently produces very little commercial
biofuel at all apart from small scale test quantities.
Some more mathematics – getting this much aviation fuel from a biomass-to-liquid
route would require 254 milliion hectares of woody energy crops.
Providing it all from jatropha (soooooo last year!) would require 477 million
hectares or 34% of the world’s current arable land area.
Algae production would need 31,000 production facilities of 1,000 hectares each
or 2% of the world’s current arable area.
Ethanol production (converted to aviation spec fuel) from Brazilian-type sugar
cane would need 185 million hectares equivalent to 13% of current global arable
Now I really do wish that there was a truly sustainable biomass source out there
that had a zero carbon footprint – who wouldn’t? But after removing the hype,
The aviation industry wants us to believe that future flights will waft along
on aircraft seemingly powered by giant air fresheners suspended beneath the wings,
emitting the fragrance of your choice. Not so, I’m afraid.
But let’s be positive. Better brains than mine actually have the answer: tough
constraints on aviation emissions growth. And maybe 10% biofuel by 2050. Please
simply search the web for the UK Committee on Climate Change seminal report “Meeting
the UK Aviation target – options for reducing emissions to 2050” first published
in December 2009.