US Navy buys another 450,000 gallons biofuel for practice exercise

The US Navy has bought 450,000 gallons of biofuel – its largest purchase – in order to try and reduce its dependence on imported fossil fuel oil. It is costing the Navy about $15 per gallon, compared to $4 for ordinary jet fuel. The oil came partly from Dynamic Fuels (in Louisiana) made from used cooking oil and animal fat, and from Solarzyme which produces algal fuel.  Solarzyme has already sold the Navy bout 150,000 gallons of their fuel. It will be used in 50% mixture in planes and ships, for a practice “green strike group” Naval exercise off Hawaii in 2012.

US Navy in big biofuel purchase

by Staff Writers  (Bio fuel Daily)
Washington (AFP) Dec 5, 2011

The US Navy unveiled plans Monday for its biggest-ever biofuel purchase as part of an effort to reduce dependence on imported oil.

US Navy Secretary Ray Mabus said the 450,000 gallons (1.7 million liters) were part of the “largest single purchase of advanced drop-in biofuel in government history.” The biofuel also “comes from non-food sources and does not increase the carbon footprint.”

The purchase aims to meet President Barack Obama’s goal “to achieve more energy security by finding ways to lessen our dependence on oil and fossil fuels,” Mabus said.

The Defense Department will purchase biofuel made from a blend of non-food waste, including algae produced by Solazyme and used cooking oil from the Louisiana-based Dynamic Fuels, LLC, a joint venture of Tyson Foods and Syntroleum Corp.

The fuel will be used in the US Navy’s demonstration of a “green strike group” in 2012 during the Rim of the Pacific Exercise, the world’s largest international maritime exercise off the coast of Hawaii.

Mabus said the entire strike group, including aircraft and ships, will use a 50 percent biofuel blend, mixed with diesel for the ships, and aviation fuel for the aircraft.

By 2016, the Navy aims to send a carrier strike group on a normal, multi-month deployment using 50 percent biofuels for both surface ships and aircraft.

The biofuel is considered a drop-in fuel, meaning no modifications to the engines are required.

US Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, who joined in the announcement, said the move helps improve energy security “by basically producing our own fuels in a creative and innovative way.”

Navy Takes Flak for $15 / Gallon Biofuel Purchase Totalling $12M

DECEMBER 27, 2011


Critics claim that $15 / gallon (the calculated pump price) is too much. The Navy says this will accelerate the production of homegrown fuel and contribute to Navy’s goal of 50% renewable fuel by 2020.

The 450,000 gallons of agal and animal fat oil-based fuel constitutes the largest single purchase of biofuel in US history.

While the fuel is an advanced, drop-in biofuel (it requires no engine modification), it will first be blended 50/50 with marine diesel or aviation gas and then used in a demonstration aircraft-carrier group dubbed “The Green Strike Group.”

In preparation, the Navy says it has already tested the fuel in F/A-18s and all six of the Blue Angels, along with the V-22 Osprey, the RCB-X (riverine command boat), training patrol crafts and other vessels.

Two companies will deliver the order, despite producing biofuel from two wildly different sources. Dynamic Fuels (half-owned by Tyson Foods) produces fuel from waste fat and greases, while California-based Solazyme is an algae-based biofuel company.

Before this contract, Solazyme had already delivered about 150,000 gallons of their fuel to the Navy.

The demonstration comes as a response to President Obama’s “we can’t wait” energy security goals, outlined in the March 2011 “Blueprint for a Secure Energy Future,” which prompted the Secretaries of Agriculture, Energy, and Navy to set aside up to $510M for renewable fuels over the next three years.

This money will be invested in partnerships with the private sector to produce drop-in biofuels for military and commercial use.

Critics aren’t happy, claiming that a back-of-the-napkin $15 / gallon is too much when compared to the standard aviation-fuel price of $3.97 per gallon.

It seems a bit unfair to compare the two, considering that aviation-fuel has about a 72-year head start. The simple fact that algae biofuel is being successfully tested in advanced tactical aircraft is incredible, let alone that it’s being done at any kind of scale.

Will biofuels always be more expensive than fossil fuels? Probably!

But since when did the US military care about paying a little extra? The Navy’s major point here about acquiring 50% of their fuel from renewable, home-grown sources is the strategic consideration of reliable access to fuel.

If the US loses a large percentage of primary fuel imports, it sure would be nice to have access to something else, cost be damned.
For some differing opinions on this, see the following:

Navy under scruitiny for buying $15/g biojet fuel
Jim Lane | December 29, 2011

In Washington, the U.S. Navy is under scrutiny for spending $12 million to purchase biojet fuel at $15 per gallon compared to the standard aviation-fuel price of $3.97 per gallon. The Navy defends the purchase by stating it will accelerate the production of domestically produced fuel and contribute to the Navy’s goal of 50% renewable fuel by 2020.
The 450,000 gallons of agal and animal fat oil-based fuel is the largest single purchase of biofuel in US history. Produced by Solazyme and Dynamic Fuels respectively, the fuel is an advanced, drop-in biofuel that requires no engine modification. However, it will first be blended 50/50 with marine diesel or aviation gas and then used in a demonstration aircraft-carrier group dubbed “The Green Strike Group.”

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Making cellulosic biofuels out of wood chips and grass just loses money

One of the possible sources of so-called “sustainable” biofuels for aviation is cellulosic biofuel – derived from plant material like wood chips, woody waste or various grasses. Several companies have been given large government grants in the USA to work on this, but it has proved to be too costly and fraught with problems. Tar production in the equipment is a problem that has proved hard to solve, especially at scale. One company has now failed and had to auction off its assets. Another is turning to corn (= maize) as that can make money, though the realise it competes with food and so affects food prices.

To Survive, Some Biofuels Companies Give Up on Biofuels

Companies such as Gevo hope to become profitable by turning corn into chemicals.

Plan B: The plant Gevo is retrofitting in Luverne, Minnesota.

Gevo, a prominent advanced-biofuels company that has received millions in U.S. government funding to develop fuels made from cellulosic sources such as grass and wood chips, is finding that it can’t use these materials if it hopes to survive. Instead, it’s going to use corn, a common source for conventional biofuels. What’s more, most of the product from its first facility will be used for chemicals rather than fuel.

As the difficulty of producing cellulosic biofuels cheaply becomes apparent, a growing number of advanced-biofuels companies are finding it necessary to take creative approaches to their business, even though that means abandoning some of their green credentials, at least temporarily, and focusing on markets that won’t have a major impact on oil imports. This is hardly the outcome the government hoped for when it announced cellulosic-biofuels mandates, R&D funding, and other incentives in recent years.

Cellulosic biofuels still cost much more to produce than either corn ethanol or gasoline. One reason is that startups have had trouble raising enough money to build the large-scale commercial plants needed to lower costs. That’s in part because their technology is unproven, and in part because there’s no guaranteed market for cellulosic biofuels yet.

Additionally, government mandates that were meant to help create a market for cellulosic biofuels have so far been ineffective; it’s typically cheaper for the fuel providers affected by the mandate to purchase credits rather than biofuels. And finally, supply chains for cellulosic materials aren’t yet well developed, so companies face a challenge when they try to lock in reliable access to them.

Gevo’s strategy addresses all these problems. Besides relying on corn in order to overcome supply challenges, the company is reducing capital costs by retrofitting existing corn ethanol plants rather than building new ones; the retrofit of the first plant, in Luverne, Minnesota, will cost about $40 million, a fraction of the hundreds of millions it costs to build a new plant. And rather than making ethanol, Gevo is making butanol, which can command a higher price—especially for use as a feedstock for the chemical industry. Gevo expects that it can make butanol from corn—a readily available feedstock—for significantly less than it costs to make it from petroleum.

Gevo plans to start operations at Luverne within the next six months or so and hopes to produce 17 million gallons of butanol per year there. Most of it is destined for Sasol Chemical Industries, which will sell the butanol to make chemicals.

Butanol can be converted into a wide range of chemicals for making plastics and other products that are now made with oil. Gevo already has an agreement with a major maker of synthetic rubber, and last week it announced a partnership with Coca-Cola to develop plastic bottles made entirely from plants.

Gevo is not entirely abandoning the fuels market, however. It has an agreement with a distributor that can sell the butanol for use in small engines and marine engines, two applications where ethanol doesn’t work well. It’s also making 11,000 gallons of jet fuel from its butanol for the U.S. Air Force, which wants to test it for use in planes. That contract will cover the cost of a 10,000-gallon-per-month jet fuel demonstration plant, says Pat Gruber, Gevo’s CEO.

The use of corn for fuels and chemicals is controversial, in part because growing and processing corn releases significant amounts of greenhouse gas, and in part because using corn for fuel may affect food markets.

Gruber says the impact on food supplies and prices is mitigated by the fact that the protein in corn is still available for use in animal feed. He even makes the case that using the sugar from corn to make fuel rather than soft drinks could help the obesity problem in the United States.

“Suppose we’re in a world where we’re making huge quantities of fuels and displacing petroleum. We could come to the point where we’re running in a conflict of food versus fuel,” he says. “We should use only excess carbohydrates to make fuels.” Even so, eventually the company plans to use nonfood sources. “The feedstock in the U.S. right now is corn starch,” he says. “That’s the right feedstock for us. In the future it will be cellulosics.”



see also

Cellulosic Aviation Biofuels    30.9.2011



Reuters  30.11.2011

Advanced Biofuels Industry Hunkers Down for Hard Times




The Death of Range Fuels Shouldn’t Doom All Biofuels

(Advanced Biofuels USA)
Submitted by joanne on December 15, 2011

by Kevin Bullis (MIT Technology Review)

This month, Range Fuels, one of the first companies in a wave of startups that promised cheap biofuels made from sources such as wood chips rather than corn, shut its doors for good and was forced to auction off its assets.

The company failed for many reasons, but the biggest seems to be that its technology proved too expensive, something that experts say shouldn’t be a surprise, since it was similar to other technologies with well-known problems.

Range Fuels benefited from being an “early mover” in the field, says David Berry, a partner at the venture capital firm Flagship Ventures. “It got a lot of attention, and so it was well positioned to raise a bunch of money. The reality was, the technology couldn’t quite keep up with the attention,” he says. “That led to the company’s demise.”

Range Fuels, which had planned to turn wood chips into ethanol, received substantial attention in 2006, after President Bush declared in his State of the Union Address that the United States was “addicted to oil” and pointed to “cutting-edge methods of producing ethanol, not just from corn, but from wood chips and stalks, or switchgrass.”

By the following year, Range Fuels had received a $76 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy and had broken ground on a commercial-scale plant in Soperton, Georgia. That plant was designed to produce 20 million gallons of fuel a year at first, and eventually 100 million gallons.

At the time, Range Fuels said its plant could produce fuel by 2008, but it still wasn’t finished in 2009, when it received an $80 million loan guarantee from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to help with construction. In addition to government funding, over its history, the company received over $150 million in venture capital.

The Range Fuels plant produced some methanol in 2010, but it operated at a loss, and it was shut down in 2011. By December 2011, the company had received just over $40 million of the full grant awarded by the DOE (the rest was to come at the next phase of construction). David Aldous, the CEO of Range Fuels, says $37 million of the loan guarantee is outstanding.

Range Fuels’s technology is similar to a process that’s long been used to convert coal into liquid fuels. It starts with a gasification step that uses heat, pressure, and steam to turn wood chips into a combination of hydrogen and carbon monoxide known as syngas. The company then used catalysts to make a combination of methanol and ethanol. It claimed that by using a proprietary catalyst, and some smart engineering, it could make the normally expensive process more economical.

As early as 2007, energy experts were raising red flags about the technology (as Technology Review noted here). Researchers at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden, Colorado, said that their attempts to scale up similar technology had revealed a number of problems.

…One possible problem, says Helena Chum, a research fellow at NREL, is tar formation during the gasification step, something that has plagued similar attempts at gasification by Georgia Pacific and other companies. “Even if it’s a small amount in experiments, when you go into industrial production, it becomes an enormous amount to deal with,” Chum says. The problem was known to researchers, she says, “but technology developers sometime ignore research results in trying to move fast.”

Chum says other problems can arise from gasifying biomass—including the presence of inorganic impurities and irregular proportions of the gases formed, which requires modifying catalysts and processes, all of which can be expensive and time-consuming.

Some sources have suggested that the culture at Range Fuels caused the company to downplay the significance of technical challenges as it rushed to scale up the technology. Chum says that’s common. “Usually developers are optimistic, so they go with very short time frames. Even if companies have people on the staff that say it will take longer, the investors don’t want to wait a long time, and sometimes neither does the government,” she says.

Aldous says the biggest problem Range Fuels encountered was securing enough money to address the technical challenges it faced, especially in the midst of a recession. He says the company could only get enough money to build the plant in stages, and that the partial plant had to operate at a loss.

The system for feeding biomass to the gasifiers, which Range Fuels bought from a supplier, could only provide enough to supply one of the company’s two gasifiers, while the other stood idle. “This meant we were losing money with each gallon we produced; the supplier needed a few months to redesign their system, which is why we mothballed the plant,” he says.

By early 2011, even Vinod Khosla, the prominent investor who provided seed funding for Range Fuels and who had written enthusiastically about the company during its early days, was criticizing the company’s basic technology. “In our view, the traditional path of chemical catalysis of syngas to fuels (be it ethanol or Fischer-Tropsch synthesis) appears economically challenging,” he wrote in January. “Technologies like Range that started with chemical catalysts will need to switch over to these newer fermentation techniques.”

Commenting in a recent e-mail to Technology Review, Khosla noted, however, that it is typical for many of the companies pursuing a new technology to fail. “The nature of the venture race is that the best technology (lowest cost, highest performance, etc.) in each technology does very well, some do okay, and many fail because their technology was not good enough,” he says.

Chum agrees. “We shouldn’t call the failure of one company the failure of a field,” she says.


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Thai Airways conducts biofuel test flight

 Thai Airways has flown a 20 minute flight from Bangkok to Chiang Mai, for the media, airline representatives etc, using partly biofuels, provided by Dutch company SkyNRG. It used 50% ordinary jet fuel and 50% recycled cooking oil from the US. SkyNRG says “SkyNRG does not commit to one single feedstock or technology. The sustainability of alternative aviation fuels depends on many factors and has to be assessed on a case-by-case basis.”  There will be the first passenger flight tomorrow.

Thai Airways carries out Asia's first commercial passenger biofuel flight and rounds off successful year for SkyNRG | Thai Airways,SkyNRG

Passengers board today’s Thai Airways Boeing 777 biofuel flight (GreenAir)


The Nation December 21, 2011

THAI President Piyasvasti Amranand said that the experimental flight echoes the airline’s CSR policy. Under “travel green” concept, this flight is aimed at creating awareness among all parties on biofuels, particularly regional airlines which needs to reduce fossil fuel consumption.

“THAI wants to push forward jet biofuels development to ensure sustainable use in Thailand and the region. This needs cooperation from all parties, like oil companies, research institutes, educational institutes, and related public and private organisations,” he said.

Today, the airline launched Flight TG 8421, the first biofuels flight that welcomed the media, representatives from related organisations including Rolls Royce and Boeing. The first passenger biofuels flight, TG 104, will follow tomorrow. All proceeds will go to alternative energy promotion organisations.To promote awareness in greenhouse gases and climate change, 98 students will also join the flight.

PTT executive Saran Rangkasiri said the company was in charge of supplying 8 tonnes of biofuels for the flights, worth about US$2.5 million. It was imported from Sky NRG in the Netherlands which supplied the fuel to KLM and Finnair.

To Airports of Thailand, the flights are in line with the Green Airport policy. Aside from the green flight, AOT is turning it’s buildings into Green Building and using clean and renewable energy for all vehicles operating in the airport.

“Thai Airways International’s Asia’s first passenger biofuels flight confirms the airline’s commitment toward green travelling and the Thai authorities’ effort to reduce greenhouse gas emission.”


GreenAir online says :

The aircraft was powered in both engines by a 50/50 blend of used cooking oil sourced from the United States and conventional jet kerosene. Tomorrow, a scheduled passenger flight between Bangkok and Chiang Mai will use the same biofuel blend. The flights cap a high-profile year for Amsterdam-based SkyNRG, with THAI becoming its tenth contracted customer worldwide and follows similar flights by KLM, Finnair, Thomson Airways, Air France and Alaska Airlines.

SkyNRG and THAI have also signed a long-term commitment to actively participate in creating a market for affordable sustainable jet fuel.


and SkyNRG website at

They said they produced “sustainable” biofuel for Finnair and others, and that was  based on used cooking oil.  No mention of that here.

“SkyNRG has already contracted more than 10 airline customers covering all continents in the world. THAI is SkyNRG’s first Asia Pacific customer and sixth publicly announced airline customer after KLM Royal Dutch Airlines, Finnair, Thomson Airways, Air-France and Alaska Airlines.

“THAI and SkyNRG also signed a statement together indicating their long term commitment to actively participate in creating a market for sustainable jet fuel that is affordable.”


Thai Airways to launch biofuels-based 777 service on 22nd December

Thai Airways will fly its first biofuel commercial flight on 22nd December.   Nowhere does it mention what the fuel is made from. All revenue from the first flight — TG104 Bangkok-Chiang Mai — will reportedly go towards an organization that furthers the development of alternative energy.

by Meghan Sapp
13.12.2011 (Biofuels Digest)

In Thailand, Thai Airways announced plans to power a commercial passenger flight using only biofuel. Commercial flights are planned to begin on December 22 for the Bangkok to Chiang Mai route.

A non-commercial flight on December 21 will host members of the press and representatives from various groups that support Thailand’s biofuel project including PTT, Aeronautical Radio of Thailand, the Department of Civil Aviation, Rolls Royce and Boeing.

The biofuel-powered flight supports the company’s Travel Green initiative as part of its Corporate Social Responsibility activities. The first flight on December 21 will use a Boeing 777-200 plane.



The airline claims it is revolutionizing the use of bio jet fuel in Asia and Southeast Asia, which it hopes will kick start other carrier in the region to follow suit.

Thai Airways has received total support by petroleum producers, research firms, educational institutions, aircraft and engine manufactures as well as government agencies affiliated with the aviation industry to develop bio fuel for aviation in Thailand.

Revenue from the first passenger flight will go toward further developing renewable energy in Thailand.

All revenue from the first flight — TG104 Bangkok-Chiang Mai — will reportedly go towards an organization that furthers the development of alternative energy.

But although Thai Airways says it will be Asia’s first to fly a commercial flight using biofuels, Air China actually launched a test flight using the eco-friendly gas back in October, reported

Biofuel is sourced from non-fossil fuels, with two of the primary sources of fuels including starch to form bioethanol, as well as animal fats to form biodiesel.

As fantastic as it sounds in theory, many experts warn against relying on biofuels given the effect demand will have on global food prices and land use

There are more Biofuels Digest news items relating to Thaland and biofuels :


Atmospheric CO2 data

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Virgin Australia and Air New Zealand sign agreements with Australian company Licella to develop aviation biofuels

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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The inevitability of traceability in the oil and gas sector

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 to fly first biofuel flights in early 2012

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

see also

Flights that have been fuelled by biofuels

for details of most of the airlines and flights that have so far taken place, or are planned.

GreenAir online Links:

Thai Airways

Qantas – Sustainable Aviation Fuel

Boeing – Sustainable Aviation Biofuels

Hawai’i BioEnergy




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Committee on Climate Change Review on future UK use of bioenergy

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”

is at

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
highly controversial.

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:

 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’

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Branson hoping for 50% “sustainable” aviation fuels by 2020 (8 years ahead)

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

5.12.2011 (Guardian)

, 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, 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 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   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:

 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!

see also

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.

Click here to view full story…


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Water for microalgae cultivation has significant energy requirements

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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IATA chief urges governments to adopt a six-step policy approach to promote aviation biofuels commercialisation

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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