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.
In response to the Thomson biofuel flight, using 50% used cooking oil in one
engine, three Plane Stupid activists staged a naked protest – showing that biofuels
are not green, and the Thomson PR exercise is bare faced cheek. Thomson intends,
after a 6 week gap, to have many more biofuel flights in 2012. They hope to use
used cooking oil, but the airline may have to use other fuels, as it is not likely
to get enough of the oil – which is already much in demand.
7.10.2011 (Daily Mail)
Not red faced: Protesters from Plane Stupid at Birmingham airport protesting
against the UK’s first commercial flight using biofuel because of the damage it
does to the rainforest
– Plane flew from Birmingham airport to Lanzarote
– ‘Biofuel production killing rainforests,’ say protesters
By Gavin Allen
A planeload of British holidaymakers have made aviation history by flying to
Lanzarote on a plane fuelled by used chip pan oil.
The Thomson Airways flight from Birmingham airport was the first UK commercial
biofuels flight ever from a UK airport.
One of the engines on the twin- engined Boeing 757 flight was operated on a 50%
blend of ‘Hydroprocessed Esters and Fatty Acids’, produced from used cooking oil,
and 50% Jet A1 fuel.
You’re not under a vest: A Plane Stupid protester is led away by police after
the scenes at Birmingham airport
But environmental protesters stripped naked and covered themselves in red body
paint in a bid to disrupt the launch.
Calling themselves Plane Stupid they said that rainforests were being wrecked
to make way for biofuel plantations.
The cooking oil used for the Thomson flights is collected from the kitchens of
hotels and restaurants and then goes through a special processing treatment.
Carl Gissing, director of customer service at Thomson Airways, admitted that
the biofuel cost around five to six times the price of aviation fuel, but said
the airline was prepared to ‘put its money where our mouth is’ because it believed
in sustainable biofuels.
Mr Gissing said: ‘We are proud to be leading the way with the first commercial
biofuel flights and we hope it will make people sit up and take notice.’
Mr Gissing said the move was designed to make a statement which it was hoped
would lead to industry and governments investing in developing fuels which would
reduce carbon emissions.
After today’s light, carrying 232 passengers, there will be a six-week gap before
Thomson starts a full programme of biofuel flights in 2012 from Birmingham Airport.
Dirk Konemeijer, managing director of skyNRG, which supplies the biofuel, said
it made sense to utilise used cooking oil because it was a waste product which
couldn’t be used for anything else. [This is untrue]
It was not economically viable at present to supply the whole of the aviation
industry with the fuel and that was why government support was needed. [The aviation industry is, yet again, asking for subsidy from the public purse
– and this time it is for a misguided idea that does not achieve its stated ambitions,
and is very environmentally and socially damaging].
Long-term other technology was necessary and in three to four years a totally
new fuel could come along. [Cloud cuckoo land again. Where is this magic substance to come from? Why should
anyone believe some remarkable chemical miracle is going to present itself?]
Joe Peacock, from Birmingham Friends of the Earth, however, said: ‘We cannot ignore the massive environmental and social problems
caused by trying to feed our addiction to fossil fuels with plant-based alternatives.’
Plane Stupid protester Chris Cooper said: ‘Thomson seem to be acknowledging that
we can’t continue business as usual in the face of the current climate emergency.
‘It’s a shame their solution is to make matters worse.
‘Vast tracts of rainforest, eco systems vital to halting climate change, are
currently being trashed to make way for biofuel plantations.
An Iberia Airbus A320 has flown its first commercial flight, using a blended
jet biofuel from camelina, from Madrid to Barcelona. It burned around 2,800kg
of a mixture of 75% Jet A-1 fuel and 25% camelina in both engines. The camelina
was grown in the US and supplied and processed by a variety of US companies.
This is part of Spain’s pioneering ‘Green Flight’ programme to advance the use
of biofuels in aviation. Iberia claims the fuel cut CO2 emissions by 20%.
For the first time, a blended jet biofuel sourced from the camelina sativa plant
has been used on a commercial flight. Flying from Madrid to Barcelona, an Iberia
Airbus A320 burned around 2,800kg of a mixture of 75 per cent conventional Jet
A-1 fuel and 25 per cent biofuel in both engines. The camelina was grown in the
United States and supplied by Sustainable Oils.
The camelina oil was sent from Montana to Honeywell UOP’s Houston tolling facility
in Texas where it was converted to the company’s Green Jet Fuel. The fuel was
then blended with conventional jet fuel by ASA in Mexico and evaluated and certified
by Spanish energy giant Repsol.
The flight was part of Spain’s pioneering ‘Green Flight’ programme to advance
the use of biofuels in aviation. Iberia claims the fuel mix brought a saving of
nearly 1,500kg of CO2 emissions, representing an emissions reduction of almost
20 per cent.
“The fight against climate change is one of the greatest challenges we face,
and biofuels are essential for reducing our reliance on petroleum, increasing
our competitiveness and achieving the ambitious emission reduction targets set
by the airline industry,” commented Iberia Chairman Antonio Vázquez.
Repsol was responsible for producing and delivering the fuel, which was evaluated
under high-performance conditions at its Technology Centre, one of the most advanced
fuel R&D facilities of its kind in Europe. The company has developed a strategy
to include sustainable refining and the making of clean fuels.
Iberia and Repsol say they will now consider a new initiative to advance research,
development and the use of biofuels in commercial aviation.
The link with ASA (Aeropuertos y Servicios Auxiliares), the state-owned agency
that operates 18 airports and supplies aviation fuel from 61 outlets in Mexico,
is part of a close relationship forged between the Spanish and Mexican governments
involving the development of aviation biofuels.
Camelina sourced from the northwest United States, where it is grown as a rotational
crop, has been used in previous test flights but Iberia says it can also be cultivated
in Spain and unlike other plants used for biofuels, it can enrich the soil in
which it is grown. Airbus, which worked closely with Iberia on the flight, is
also involved with a value chain project in Romania that is seeking to develop
an aviation biofuel industry from locally-grown camelina (see article).
Iberia recently signed an agreement with the Spanish Air Traffic Control and
Air Safety Services and Studies agency (SENASA) and Airbus to support the development,
production, and sustainable use of biofuels for aviation in Spain. Iberia is contributing
its airline and aircraft maintenance experience, and will carry out tests using
its engines and aircraft. The company is also participating in a research project
with AlgaEnergy aimed at obtaining biofuel from microalgae (see article).
UK first as Thomson Airways’ three-year biofuel commercial flight programme finally
Thomson Airways aircraft being refuelled with biofuel blend prior to flight
A Thomson Airways Boeing 757-200 today conducted the UK’s first commercial flight
to use biofuel. Using a 50/50 blend of used cooking oil and conventional jet kerosene
in one engine, the aircraft will make a four-hour flight from Birmingham Airport
to Arrecife in the Canary Islands.
The flight marks the start of regular daily flights using a dedicated aircraft
as part of trials to quantify any differences in performance or fuel burn of the
engine when compared with the non-biofuel engine. The inaugural flight was originally
scheduled for the end of July but was postponed due to “unforeseen delays” in
the fuel delivery.
Two UK environmental groups have condemned the biofuel flight as “self-seeking
and irresponsible greenwash” but the airline has hit back at the criticism.
The biofuel blend has been supplied by Netherlands-based SkyNRG, [see SkyNRG comment below] which has already supplied fuel for the KLM and Finnair biofuel flights that
took place in July. Thomson says it will work with SkyNRG and its other strategic
partners over the next three years to increase the proportion of jet biofuel it
uses and drive down the cost of the fuel.
As a member of the Sustainable Aviation Fuel Users Group, Thomson has also pledged
to use feedstocks that do not compete with food or natural resources and have
significantly lower total lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions than conventional
fossil jet fuel. [ How?? ]
In addition, says the airline, once the supply chain develops, feedstocks grown
in developing areas must have a positive socio-economic benefit to local communities
and areas of high conservation value and local eco-systems must not be cleared. [And quite how do they propose to achieve all that, with the known problems of
indirect land use effects ?? A very laudable aspiration, but almost certainly
unachievable in practice]
Thomson and its parent TUI Travel have called on the UK government and other
European states to help accelerate the pace of development of sustainable aviation
biofuels and incentivise investment in R&D, loan guarantees and other fiscal
measures. [That means they want subsidies and government help, which means the tax payer
However, today’s biofuel flight has been criticised by environmental groups AirportWatch
and Biofuelwatch as “dangerous greenwash”.
“Thomson Airways are using spurious claims about the merits of ‘sustainable biofuels’
to try and get the Government to grant yet more financial support and preferential
treatment for the aviation industry,” said Sarah Clayton of AirportWatch. “There
is nothing sustainable about competing with other biofuel markets for the obviously
limited supplies of used cooking oil and tallow.
“This merely means that others, finding increased competition for supplies, will
then simply use more palm and soya oil instead, thus causing more forests to be
destroyed. And there is nothing sustainable about worsening existing land conflicts
in Brazil so that companies like Thomson can keep expanding.”
A spokesman for Thomson Airways said the claims made by AirportWatch and Biofuelwatch
were “totally inaccurate”.
“They wrongly state that ‘Thomson Airways have now conceded that they will have
to use virgin plant oil, initially from camelina from North America and babassu
nuts from Brazil …’. The biofuel purchased by Thomson Airways is sourced entirely
from used cooking oil. No animal tallow, camelina or babassu was used,” he said. [Doubtless the fuel for the first few flights was, but there is not enough used
cooking oil to go round – it is almost all already diverted to terrestrial uses.
One or two planes can fly on it, but not many. It is a token gesture].
The spokesman also pointed out a WWF Energy Report had recognised that bioenergy
was currently the only suitable replacement for fossil fuels in transport applications
that required liquid fuels with a high energy density such as aviation.
Christian Cull, Communications Director for TUI UK and Ireland, said: “We realise
we won’t please everyone, and that at present the aviation biofuel supply chain
is not perfect. We are sincere in our commitment and are proud to be flying with
biofuel. Whilst these are early days, we are in this for the long haul because
we believe it is the right thing to do.
Responding to the environmental groups’ claim that Thomson was using the biofuel
flights as part of a lobby effort to win more state support and subsidies for
aviation, the airline said it firmly believed the adoption of sustainable biofuels
by airlines would help achieve the UK government’s carbon budget that commits
to reducing carbon emissions by 50% by 2025. [Not if the science is to be believed, the supposed carbon savings are shown
to be hugely less than claimed, and for a huge amount of social and environmental
damage, tnot to mention a lot of money from the taxpayer, here is only a tiny
– if any – carbon saving as a result].
“We are aware of the negative impact of using biofuels irresponsibly, and that
is why Thomson Airways believes the industry must continue to work together with
initiatives such as the Roundtable on Sustainable Biofuels [about which there are many and profound criticisms and uncertainties] to find more sustainable alternatives to fossil fuel,” added the Thomson spokesman.
“The aviation industry as a whole cannot stand still and do nothing.”
Jet fuel supplier SkyNRG is a joint venture made up of KLM, North Sea Group and
Spring Associates. It is advised by an independent Sustainability Board that consists
of two NGOs (including WWF-NL) [sic] and an academic institute on sustainability issues related to the proposed
feedstock and estate selections.
SkyNRG has issued its own statement (see below) in response to the AirportWatch/Biofuelwatch
SkyNRG reaction to AirportWatch/Biofuelwatch statement
Air travel has become an integral part of everyday life. There will be air travel,
now and in the future, as it fulfills an important social function in today’s
global society. The aviation industry acknowledges the urgency for emission reduction
and they also know there is a need to switch to alternative, renewable resources
as fossil fuels are depleting. Demand side reduction is a very effective way to
reduce fuel consumption and related green house gas emissions. But it does not
offer a complete solution to aviation related emissions, let alone energy security.
In addressing the challenge to replace fossil kerosene in a sustainable way, aviation
has no alternative but liquid hydrocarbons from bio-based (waste) sources.
We share the concerns of NGOs (and other stakeholders) when it comes to bio-energy
resources. We believe in the notion that the impact of bioenergy on social and environmental issues may be positive or
negative depending on local conditions and the design and implementation of specific
projects (SRREN, 2011). When done in the wrong way biomass and biofuel production systems
can have a variety of negative impacts on eco- and social systems. Greenhouse
gas emissions are just part of the problem. On the other side, well managed projects
can have a profoundly positive effect on ecosystems and social systems alike and
can include: enhanced biodiversity, soil carbon increases and improved soil productivity,
significant greenhouse reductions, less dependency on fossil energy sources, reduced
erosion (top soil and nutrient run off) effects, stimulation of local employment
and strengthening of local, regional and national economies.
SkyNRG focuses on this positive side of biofuel development. To make the right
decisions now and in the future, SkyNRG is advised by an independent Sustainability
Board, consisting of the Dutch wing of the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF-NL),
Solidaridad, and the Copernicus Institute of the University of Utrecht. SkyNRG
recognizes to be in a transition; the best choices today are likely to be replaced
by improved choices in the near future. We have chosen to start with Used Cooking
Oil, a waste stream, as main feedstock. We know the available volumes are limited
and that it can never replace total fossil kerosene consumption. And neither can
vegetable oils. We see current options as a first step in the right direction
and we are exploring and supporting future alternatives both in feedstock and
“First steps are critical to get things going. The first launching flights, made
by carriers that are stepping up to make the difference, are essential to engage
industry, governments, customers and other stakeholders. We welcome Thomson Airways
to join us on the road towards a sustainable future for aviation” – Dirk Kronemeijer, MD SkyNRG
SkyNRG is a joint venture of KLM Royal Dutch Airlines, North Sea Group and Spring
Associates. SkyNRG’s mission is to help create a sustainable future for aviation
through actively developing a sustainable production chain for alternative aviation
fuels. Today the market for these fuels is just emerging; SkyNRG is taking the
first steps to make it a reality. Doing nothing is not an option.
Note: Some of the claims made by AirportWatch and BiofuelsWatch are inaccurate. The article
wrongly states that: “The company that is refining Thomson’s Biofuels states on
their website that they are looking for Palm and Soya as suitable feedstock. This
is not the case, the plant merely has the technical capability to process different
types vegetable oils, hence the statement. Today the plant is running on waste
oils only and has no intention to switch.
AirportWatch is pleased if SkyNRG is not using palm oil. The concern comes from
knowledge that palm oil is being considered, or used, by others. For example in
this GreenAir online article below:
Lufthansa will get its biofuel from Neste Oil, with palm oil likely to be sneaked
into the mix
Lufthansa takes off towards a new era of sustainably fuelled regular commercial
Mon 18 July 2011 (GreenAir Online story)
This is a very worrying article about biofuel Lufthansa will be getting from
Neste Oil, which is well known for using large quantities of palm oil. It appears
that though Lufthansa is saying all the suitable greenwash things about its flights
at present, using only camelina, jatropha and animal fats, as Neste Oil deals
largely with palm oil, it is likely that so called “sustainably sourced” palm
oil will get into the mix, and Lufthansa is not bothered about that.Click here to view full story…