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. Tweet
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
The world’s 7,000 airlines could switch to low-carbon jet fuels much faster than other transport because aeroplanes have very few “filling stations”, says Richard Branson.
“Unlike cars where there are millions of filling stations, there are only about 1,700 aviation stations in the world. So if you can get the right fuel, like mass-produced algae, then getting it to 1,700 outlets is not so difficult,” Branson said in an interview with the Guardian from the British Virgin islands.
Branson, who announced last month he hoped Virgin would soon be able to use waste gases from industrial steel and aluminium plants as a fuel, said the industry should aim for 50% sustainable fuels by 2020. [Fine to use the waste gases, but that won’t make up much of the overall fuel used by aviation. And what does he mean by “sustainable”? could mean anything. So bit of a meaningless statement]
“I would be very disapointed if not. Once the breakthrough takles place, getting to 50-100% is not unrealistic. Aviation fuel is 25-40% of the running costs of airlines so the industry is open to new fuels.” [So this means it is being done to try and save costs, not carbon].
Branson, whose Virgin group owns 51% of Virgin Atlantic Airways, was speaking in advance of the launch in Durban of RenewableJetFuels.org, an open access website that assesses and updates the progress of companies planning to produce commercial-scale renewable fuel for aviation. [ Renewable maybe, but not necessarily low carbon, or not competing in one way or other with human or animal food etc].
It suggests that of the 40 companies claiming to have the potential to deliver large-scale amounts – about one third of them are “credible” from an economic, scalable and sustainability perspective in their current state.
In the next five years, according to the website published by business NGO Carbon War Room (which was founded by Richard Branson) and academic publisher Elsevier, some renewable jet fuel companies “could be producing enough renewable fuel to replace 10-20% of the fuel of a typical mid-sized airline”. [So does that mean all these companies together can produce enough fuel for a bit of the needs of just one airline? Surely that would not make much difference].
The data, said Branson, should allow airlines to accelerate linkups with fuel companies.
“Producers can continually update and re-submit data. This is then reviewed by experts, enabling RenewableJetFuels.org to be the independent, gold standard for investors and airlines in the market,” said Suzanne Hunt, head of operations at Carbon War Room.
“Trying to address climate change makes business sense”, said Branson, whose Virgin airline spends around $3bn a year on jet fuel.
“The jet fuel industry can charge what they like at present. New fuels will compete. You could find the price of aviation fuel comes down.” [So these fuels are only being developed for cost reasons, and to hell with the carbon or other implications].
Three years ago Virgin flew a plane to Holland on coconut fuel [and babassu nut oil] and no one took it seriously, said Branson. [And rightly so. See http://www.airportwatch.org.uk/?p=1285 It used 150,000 coconuts for 6% of the fuel London to Amsterdam …….] “The industry thought it was PR. BA was pretty dismissive, saying planes will never fly on bio-fuels. But it actually kickstarted thinking. Since then, even BA has started investing in new biofuels.
“We’re heading in the right direction. The industry could go from one of the dirtiest to one of the cleanest in 10 years. We are investing in different companies and really beginning to see traction”.
The five leading alternative jet fuel companies identified by Carbon War Room are Lanzatech, SG biofuels, AltAir, Solazyme and Sapphire.
In answer to critics who say moves by the aviation industry to tap into biofuels or other renewable fuels are simply “greenwash”, he said attempting to reduce emissions from flying through finding greener fuels was “a better approach than giving up”.
For much more on biofuels and why they are not the magic bullet solution for the aviation industry, see Biofuelsand Biofuels News
and Flights that have been fuelled by biofuelsThis 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.
Below are a few extracts from it (there is no mention anywhere of the carbon reductions that these fuels might bring):
Q. What’s driving the development of renewable fuels?
A. High fuel prices, fuel price volatility, and the desire to reduce GHGs from the aviation sector. Some governments around the world are considering and implementing carbon emissions penalties for aviation, and airlines using low carbon renewable fuels would benefit under these schemes. Finally, there has been a major shift in global refinery output away from jet fuel and toward gasoline and diesel fuels. This, combined with growing commercial and military jet fuel demand, is increasing cost and volatility of the jet fuel fraction relative to other fossil fuel types.
Q. What are the social implications of the aviation industry moving heavily into renewable fuels?
A. At the macro/global level, petroleum is found in a relatively small number of countries, while all countries are endowed with renewable resources so this represents a socioeconomic opportunity in a large number of countries. The jet fuel market is approximately 10% of the total petroleum fuel market, much smaller relative to gasoline and diesel markets. For technical and market reasons, companies involved in producing renewable jet fuel generally are also involved in making other types of fuels, so if this helps bring a shift to renewable fuels broadly there could be significant social implications, but it all depends on how the industry develops, including ownership structures, employment practices, feedstocks/technologies used, etc.
Our globalized world relies on air travel to connect people, goods, and commerce across the planet; aviation provides innumerable social and economic benefits. High and volatile fuel prices, as well as carbon emissions associated with fossil jet fuels represent fundamental threats to the future of commercial aviation. Renewable jet fuels may not only help the aviation sector survive, but even thrive in the future.
Q. What’s your response to the argument that the biofuels currently out there cause deforestation, food price rises, hunger, poverty, biodiversity loss and they often produce more GHG emissions than the fossil fuels they replace?
A. It all depends on what fuel, made from what materials, where, and how. Some biofuels could have some or maybe even all of those negative impacts, and some will be hugely beneficial. It is important not to throw the baby out with the bathwater here. It is extremely important that we clearly distinguish between the sustainable biofuel production pathways and unsustainable pathways, and support those that are sustainable. This is a key part of our mission.
It is worth noting that we use the term “renewable fuels” to be inclusive of new production pathways that don’t use biomass as a major input (for example, there are companies that are converting all kinds of waste into fuel including steel mill emissions and municipal waste, and some are working on direct conversion of solar energy into liquid fuels – they’ve dubbed them “solar fuels”.
Q. What is the market potential for these renewable fuels?
A. In both dollar and volume terms, there is a huge market for renewable jet fuels. Annual jet fuel demand is over 5 million barrels per day – making it a multi-billion dollar market. In 2010 Airlines alone spent $140 billion on jet fuel and expect to spend more the $200 billion in 2011.
Q. Isn’t the best way of reducing emissions in aviation, to have less flying? Or lighter aircraft?
A. Those are great ways to reduce emissions and we encourage greater efficiency and new ways of living and working that reduce pollution, however studies show that those measures alone will likely not be enough to halt the growth in emissions from the sector. [How’s that for a non-answer !]
The website also says:
For the purpose of our data collection and rankings, we allow companies to provide documentation of any sustainability certification they have obtained. Currently the only sustainability certification system that encompasses all renewable transport fuels, is global, is multi-stakeholder, and followed the ISEAL best practices for transparency and inclusiveness is the Roundtable on Sustainable Biofuels (RSB). The RSB is a voluntary sustainability certification scheme that has just recently begun certifying producers. It is working to streamline its process and to harmonize with EU and US legal sustainability requirements so as to facilitate the marketplace with credible, rigorous sustainability standards that do not become a market barrier.
Comments from AirportWatch members:
What a load of rubbish Branson speaks to make his polluting industry seem greener than it is.
I don’t see how the number of “filling” stations makes any difference to the speed of roll out. Fuel is a high turnover product with very few places of manufacture (refineries), so the fact there is thousands of car filling stations is irrelevant and will make no difference to the speed of roll out.
I see there is virtually nothing about cutting carbon – as most fuels will make very small cuts in carbon emisssions, if any.
This is just part of a long-term campaign to persuade the public, the government, etc that aviation is trying really hard, while in practice it is only trying to keep on growing for as long as possible, as much as possible. It’s a PR thing. Pity he has got to Durban, to muddy the waters there.
This is a smoke-screen to obscure the real situation.
It does make a good press release though!
Airlines Flying on Clean Fuel Should Pay Less Tax, Branson Says
Date added: January 3, 2012
Branson manages to persuade many people that he takes his responsibilities to the environment seriously, and really plans to fly “green” and “clean” planes … whatever those charmingly vague terms mean. The spin about “clean”, alternative bio-jet fuels is fair enough if it concerns fuels made from waste flue gases, but his hopes of the aviation industry growing hugely by 2050 and getting half its fuel from biofuels by then are unrealistic. The hype is intended to persuade government etc that the aviation industry is seriously trying to tackle the issue of carbon emissions and thus to get as much government subsidy for this as possible. In reality it is a delaying tactic to to continue business as usual.
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. Contact: email@example.com
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.
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.
New research from the European Commission confirms that EU biofuel targets will speed up the rate of extinction of plants and animals. The EU has committed to halting biodiversity loss by 2020 – yet without reform, it’s biofuels policy will seriously undermine this. The indirect land use impacts would convert some 17,000 km2 of natural habitats to grow biofuels, none protected under EU legislation, with the transition to cropland decreasing species abundance by some 85%.
[ This is about biofuels for road transport and power generation, but biofuels for aviation are linked, and aviation biofuels are likely to be derived from crops.]
Increasing the use of biofuels in Europe will have devastating impacts on wildlife a new scientific assessment has shown. The report by the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre (JRC) estimates that 85% of biodiversity will be damaged across 17,000 square kilometres of natural habitats that risks being converted to farmland as a result of EU biofuel targets. None of this will be protected under current EU legislation for biofuels. After continual controversy and delay, EU chiefs are on the verge of deciding how to deal with the greenhouse gas emissions associated with ‘indirect land use change’ from expanding biofuels.
EU officials will tomorrow (Friday November 18) present their assessment of scientific studies, which have consistently shown that the negative impacts on global land use and the climate could reverse any benefits of biofuels.  Friends of the Earth Europe is calling for an urgent rethink of EU biofuel policy and an end to subsidies.
The EU has committed to halting biodiversity loss by 2020 – yet without reform, it’s biofuels policy will seriously undermine this commitment.
Commenting on the research, Robbie Blake, biofuels campaigner for Friends of the Earth Europe, said: “Biofuels, once thought of as a solution, are pushing up food prices around the world, they’re making climate change worse, and it is now clear they could wipe out wildlife. “Continuing to expand biofuels for Europe’s cars is going to have a devastating impact on the biodiversity which is the very basis of our existence and is already disappearing at an alarming rate.
“The pressure is on the European Commission to decide once and for all how to stop the damage caused by biofuels. It must face up to the facts that biofuels are a disaster for the climate, communities and wildlife.” The JRC research indicates that habitats in Brazil, Sub-Saharan Africa and the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS – the former USSR countries) will be hardest hit:
“The extensive use of bioenergy crops will increase the rate in loss of biodiversity,” the JRC concludes. One such area, Brazil’s Cerrado – the most biodiverse savanna in the world – is already under pressure from expanding agriculture, with 54 species “red-listed” as endangered, including the Brazilian Big-eyed Bat, Giant Anteater, Pampas Cat and Maned Wolf.
New research confirms that EU biofuel targets will speed up the rate of extinction of plants and animals. The negative impacts of the increasing demand for biofuels on food prices and their real impacts on the climate have attracted a lot of attention over the past couple of years. However what this means for biodiversity has only marginally being looked at, mostly as anecdotal evidence: e.g. the threat to orangutans from expanding palm oil plantations.
But now the EU Commission has published a new report that forms part of its own impact assessment of Indirect Land Use Change (ILUC) from biofuel targets. (The one the EU has been holding under wraps for months amid rumours that publication could “kill the biofuels industry“) For the first time the report looks at the wider biodiversity impacts of indirect land use change from biofuel demand, modelling what habitats will ultimately be converted to make way for biofuels plantations.
The result show that of converted habitats
– 42% would be forests (primary and managed)
– 42% would be pasture
– 16% would be savannah and grasslands
In total 17,000 km2 of natural habitats could be converted to farmland as a result of demand for biofuels in the EU. None of this will be protected under current EU legislation for biofuels. The report concludes “the transition to cropland will cause an 85.3% decrease in the MSA (mean species abundance) index in affected areas. This result, in line with the conclusions of the GLOBIO3 study, shows that the extensive use of bioenergy crops will increase the rate in loss of biodiversity” This means for the first time the EU has openly confirmed our warnings that on top of doing little or nothing to reduce greenhouse gas emissions EU biofuel targets will also speed up species extinction. Please tell Energy Minister, Charles Hendry, to stop support for the use of biofuelsand imported biomass in power stations.
This study follows the methodology developed by the JRC (2010) for estimating changes in
greenhouse gas emissions from global land use changes due to increased biofuels demand, and applies the methodology to the output of global modelling calculations run by the International Food and Policy Research Institute (IFPRI).
In particular, this report focuses on the scenario recently published by IFPRI1 that was based on the estimates of the National Renewable Energy Action Plans (NREAPs) of the EU Member States. In this scenario, a total 1st generation biofuels blend of 8.7%, with a spread bioethanol/biodiesel of 22%-78% (NREAP “full mandate”) was assumed. In addition to the “full mandate”, marginal calculations for 8 different feedstocks were also carried out.
For completeness of the analysis on IFPRI scenarios carried out in JRC 2010 report, Appendix 1 also reports the results of the methodology as applied to another scenario (the “8.6% mandate”) published in the previous IFPRI report of 20102: this scenario assumes a biofuels (1st generation) blend in total fuel consumption in 2020 of 8.6% with a spread bioethanol/biodiesel of 60%-40%.
Based on the outcomes of IFPRI economic modeling in the “NREAPs scenario“, the increased biofuels demand will cause ILUC GHG emissions of about 36 gCO2/MJ. This result also includes emissions from peatland drainage due to oil palm plantations mainly in Indonesia and Malaysia, which were not accounted in the original JRC methodology.
The estimated peat emissions in unit of energy are 19.8 gCO2/MJ, which represent the main contribution to total GHG emissions from LUC (about 55% of total emissions).
ILUC GHG emissions for 8 feedstocks (4 for ethanol and 4 for biodiesel) were also calculated. The results show that in general ethanol crops have lower ILUC impacts than oilseeds/biodiesel crops:
emissions for ethanol feedstocks range from about 4 to 20 gCO2/MJ, and for biodiesel feedstocks they range from about 36 to 60 gCO2/MJ. These JRC results are in line with the emissions calculated by IFPRI.
Compared to the new (2011) study, the previous (2010) economic analysis carried out by IFPRI gave much higher estimations of land use change due to 8.6% biofuels consumption in 2020 (“8.6% scenario”), resulting in GHG emissions of about 54 gCO2/MJ3. The contribution of peat emissions is about 3 gCO2/MJ, which corresponds to only 5% of total emissions. The low share is due to the very limited oil palm expansion in the previous IFPRI economic analysis.
Qantas has announced that Australia’s first commercial flight powered by “sustainable” fuel will be in early 2012. Qantas has signed agreements with Solazyme (in the USA), which is working with algae-based aviation fuels, and Solena (in the USA),
which is experimenting with waste-based fuels. Qantas hopes to improve fuel efficiency by 1.5% each year. Solarzyme’s fuel is called Solajet, and they aim to scale its production up to commercial levels.
Qantas, Solazyme to launch biofuels flights in 2012
November 14, 2011 (Biofuel Digest)
In Australia, Qantas announced that the country’s first commercial flight powered
by sustainable fuel will be carried out in early 2012.
This year, Qantas has signed agreements with two leading manufacturers of sustainable
aircraft fuel. Solazyme is working with algae-based aviation fuels and Solena
is experimenting with water-based [sic – they probably mean waste based] fuels.
The airline’s CEO, Alan Joyce, stated that only the production of sustainable
aviation fuel on a commercial basis could deliver a generational step in emissions
reduction. Qantas is committed to improving fuel efficiency by 1.5 per cent each
Solazyme, Qantas sign aviation biofuels development partnership
February 11, 2011 (Biofuel Digest)
In California, Solazyme announced that it has begun a collaboration with Qantas,
to pursue the potential for commercial production of Solazyme’s microbial derived
aviation fuel, Solajet, in Australia. This represents the first collaboration
in the Asia-Pacific region to explore the use of Solajet in commercial aviation.
There is currently a six billion liter a year demand for aviation fuel in Australia.
Qantas is also working with another US company, Solena, to determine the feasibility
of using MSW for production of biojet fuel.
More on the story.
Last month, we wrote: “At a series of public and private meetings this week on
the Rodeo Drive of algae, North Torrey Pines Road in La Jolla, California, Qantas
confirmed that it is in advanced talks with an unnamed algal biofuels producer
(“with strong ties to Australia”) that are expected to result in a letter of intent
for an offtake agreement for algal jet fuel, with the potential that Qantas may
take a financial stake in the venture.
Qantas’ Peter Broschofsky, who is coordinating the initiative for Qantas as well
as chairing the environment committee of the International Air Transport Association
(IATA), also confirmed that the company, hopes to complete feasibility work on
its first biofuels project within six months. Qantas signed LOI with Solena earlier
this year, and launched what was described at the time as a 12-month investigation
of the potential to develop a 19 million gallon waste-to-jet fuel plant in Australia.
Possible Qantas equity stake?
Qantas CEO Alan Joyce is reported to be “putting on the pressure, for the team
to get on with it,” and Broschofsky said that Qantas has not ruled out taking
an investment stake in a biofuels enterprise, though he suggested that any decisions
would be taken after completion of feasibility work. He said that there continued
to be some uneasiness at the Qantas board level on the wisdom of entering the
biofuels sphere as an equity partner.
“Three or four years ago at IATA,” Broschofsky said, “biofuels weren’t even on
the radar; it was in the “too hard” category. But $180 per gallon fuel at the
wing (in 2008) got everyone’s attention – it was a real crisis.” He described
how Boeing galvanized the industry behind the development of the Bio-SPK jet fuel
specification, which most observers are predicting will be approved in the first
half of 2011 and possibly late in the first quarter.
“Watch the flood,” Broschofsky predicted, “after the fuel is certified, interest
will be at a fever pitch, and we want to get in ahead.” He detailed how it was
Boeing’s interest that brought Qantas into the biofuels arena, and Qantas in turn
galvanized broader support within IATA.
The United flight is a Boeing 737-800 from Houston to Chicago, using 40% Solarzyme
fuel, with allegedly “sustainable” of unknown composition. The Alaska Airlines’
1st commercial biofuel flight is Seattle to Washington. Alaska & its sister,
Horizon Air, plan to fly 75 “selected” flights over the next few weeks using 20%
fuel made from used cooking oil (a gimmick, as there is so little of the stuff)
made by Dynamic Fuels. The fuel companies are in a race to scale up profitably.
(Reuters) – United Airlines, the world’s largest air carrier, will make the first
U.S. commercial flight using an “advanced biofuel” on Monday, algae-based biofuel
maker Solazyme Inc said.
The flight from Houston to Chicago will take the Boeing 737-800 from the former
home city of Continental Airlines to the base of United, which took over Continental
last year to form United Continental Holdings Inc.
The Solajet fuel blend includes 60 percent petroleum-based jet fuel and 40 percent
biofuel, Solazyme said.
Shares of South San Francisco-based Solazyme were floated on Nasdaq in May, but
have nearly halved in value since then as prospects for its industry have dimmed
along with the broader economy, given its reliance on government funding.
Race for scale: United, Alaska Airlines launch commercial aviation biofuels flights
by Jim Lane
7.11.2011 (Biofuels Digest)
United and Solazyme, Alaska and Dynamic Fuels hook up, as producers scramble
to make fuel, raise cash, ratchet down costs.
Will producers scale, or fail?
In recent weeks, aviation biofuel enthusiasts have noted the commencement of
biofuels-powered commercial flights in France, Germany, the Netherlands, Spain
and Mexico, and asked when the US-developed technology would finally operate on
a commercial basis in the US. Alaska Airlines stepped up to answer the call in
partnership with Dynamic Fuels, only to find that United has teamed up with Solazyme
to snatch the prize for first flight.
This morning in Texas, United Airlines will operate the first U.S. commercial
flight powered by advanced biofuel, utilizing Solazyme Solajet fuel, on Monday,
UA Flight 1403 will depart from United’s hub at Bush Intercontinental Airport
(the heart of big oil) and fly to the airline’s hub at Chicago O’Hare International
Airport. The aircraft is a United Boeing 737-800 Eco-Skies aircraft, and Continental
pilots will be at the helm.
The flight departs Bush at 10:25 am CT from terminal C, and lands at Chicago
O’Hare at 1:01pm CT, typically arriving at United’s Terminal 1.
The fuel, produced by Solazyme, is a 40/60 blend of sustainable biofuel and traditional
petroleum-derived jet fuel. Solazyme’s renewable oils were upgraded into Solafuel
by Honeywell’s UOP.
Meanwhile, in Washington state, Alaska Airlines will launch the first commercial,
biofuel-powered regularly scheduled flight service in the United States on Wednesday,
November 9th. The flights will run from Seattle to Washington, D.C., and between
Seattle and Portland. The maiden flight will leave Seattle on November 9 to Washington,
Alaska Airlines will fly 75 commercial passenger flights in the United States,
in this series, powered by biofuel. Alaska Airlines and its sister carrier, Horizon
Air, will continue to operate select flights between Seattle and the two cities
over the next few weeks using a 20 percent blend of sustainable biofuel made from
used cooking oil that meets rigorous international safety and sustainability standards.
“This is a historic week for U.S. aviation. The 75 flights that Alaska Airlines
and Horizon Air will fly over the next few weeks reflect our longstanding commitment
to environmental responsibility and our belief that sustainable biofuels are key
to aviation’s future,” Alaska Air Group Chairman and CEO Bill Ayer said. “Commercial
airplanes are equipped and ready for biofuels. They will enable us to fly cleaner,
foster job growth in a new industry, and can insulate airlines from the volatile
price swings of conventional fuel to help make air travel more economical. What
we need is an adequate, affordable and sustainable supply. To the biofuels industry,
we say: If you build it, we will buy it.”
Used cooking oil – fry, the friendly skies
The flights – using a 20 percent biofuel blend, produced by Dynamic Fuels from
made used cooking oil. Alaska’s 75 flights are a major step in showing the long-term
feasibility of sustainable biofuels and will introduce Alaska’s customers to the
next generation of clean fuels.
It’s just about the ultimate renewable fuel feedstock – waste veggie oil, that
is. But there’s only so much used cooking oil around. Long-term, it’s a key smaller
component, but not a major driver of aviation biofuels at scale.
You’ve come a long way, baby
Just two years ago, Continental Airlines, also departing from Bush Intercontinental, operated the first US-based aviation
biofuels test flight, using an aviation biofuel made up of 50 percent conventional
fuel, 47 percent jatropha from Terasol, and 3 percent algae-based biofuel from Sapphire, working in partnership
In June, KLM Royal Dutch Airlines became the first airline in the world to operate a commercial flight carrying
171 passengers on aviation biofuels. Flight KL1233 – a Boeing 737-800 – took off
[this afternoon – sic] at 12:30 hours from Schiphol bound for Charles de Gaulle
in Paris carrying 171 passengers.
In July [no, it was delayed till October] , Thomson Airways announced that it would fly its Birmingham to Palma on 28th July 2011 using
sustainable aviation biofuels supplied by the KLM fuel consortium, SkyNRG. This
would be the first commercial flight from the UK flown using aviation biofuels.
Also in July, In Germany, Lufthansa became the world’s first airline to offer routine flights powered by biofuel.
The airline now operates four daily round trips between Hamburg and Frankfurt.
The Airbus A321 planes will use a biofuel blend of 50 percent hydrotreated renewable
jet fuel made from feedstocks such as inedible plants and wood chips.
Later that month, Finnair announced plans to operate flights powered by biofuel. The airline will operated
a biofuel flight between Amsterdam Schiphol and Helsinki in the week of July 18th,
using either an Airbus A319 or A320 aircraft. Both engines ran on a 50 percent
blend of biofuel produced from recycled vegetable oil and kerosene, and were refuelled
at Amsterdam Schiphol airport.
In September, Mexico’s largest airline, Aeromexico, began using a 25 percent biofuel mixture on its flights from Mexico City to
San Jose, Costa Rica.
In October, Spanish national airline Iberia Lineas Aereas de Espana SA flew the country’s first commercial flight using a 25% blend of biojet fuel
made from camelina. The inaugural flight using an Airbus A320 flew from Madrid
Last week, Air China in partnership with Boeing, conducted China’s first sustainable biofuel flight.
The two-hour mainland flight from Beijing Capital International Airport was witnessed
by officials from both countries and highlights the viability of using sustainable
aviation biofuel sourced in China. PetroChina, working with Honeywell’s UOP, sourced
and refined the China-grown, jatropha-based biofuel.
Pitching Martin Lidegaard, the incoming Danish Minister for Climate, Energy and
Building over a working lunch, Paul Steele, executive director of the Air Transport
Action Group made the quick win case.
“Aviation is hard at work with a spectrum of activities to reduce environmental
impact. But we see aviation biofuels as a quick win. First, we have just 1700
airports as fuel points, versus distributing to and possibly retrofitting hundreds
of thousands of gas stations around the world. Second, aviation biofuels involve
no infrastructure change – they drop right into the existing engines. Third, you
have a sector that has done everything it can to do the flight tests, the certifications,
sustainability groups, and even participating with investment in biofuels, to
The case is strong. To convert 20 percent of road transport around the world
to biofuels – a threshold most would describe as a major clean energy “win” –
would take a transformative infusion of capital, and require the aggregation of
as much as 1.5 billion tons of biomass. The impact? Transformative. The logistics?
Daunting. The timelines? Awfully long for a public which feeds on 24-hour news
cycles and 1-2 year product life cycles.
By contrast, converting 20 percent of aviation to biofuels would transform modern
aviation, be a major signal that clean energy can work at scale, and offers a
model for developing R&D, certification and supply chain consortia. It would
take around 12 billion gallons of biofuels, and perhaps 120 million tons of biomass,
distributed to 1700 or so airports around the world.
Opportunities for scale
Companies that are producing aviation biofuels in test or commercial quantities
include a who’s who from the 50 Hottest Companies in Bioenergy: Solazyme, Amyris,
Sapphire Energy, Rentech, Gevo, Terrabon, Cobalt Technologies, ZeaChem and LanzaTech.
Solazyme has inked a deal with Qantas, Rentech has an off take agreement with
13 airlines. LanzaTech signed up with Virgin Airlines in recent weeks, while Gevo
has hooked up with United and Cobalt is producing test quantities of fuel for
the US Navy.
In California, AltAir Fuels plans to build a biojet plant in Bakersfield that
will begin producing fuel in 2012. As a result, farmers in the Central and San
Joaquin valleys are being encouraged to grow 25,000 acres of camelina under the
Biomass Crop Assistance Program.
Solena, meanwhile, has inked deals with SAS, Qantas and British Airways to develop
small commercial facilities producing 14-19 million gallons of aviation biofuels
from municipal waste in Sweden, Australia and the UK, and in July said that it
expects to put in a planning application in Gilroy, California for construction
of its first biojet facility sometime within the coming year. The company says
it still has a lot of development work to do on details and consultations with
the community before it asks for permission to build the 16 million gallon per
year, $350 million facility.
The race for low cost: who might win in the race for scale?
To make affordable jet fuel at scale (say, 50 million gallons as a reference
plant), someone is going to have to produce alcohol fuel at $1.25-$1.50 per gallon,
or renewable oils at around $2.50-$3.00 per gallon, and haul in something like
500,000 tons of biomass. That’s sourced from 625,000 acres or so of camelina,
75,000 acres of switchgrass or miscanthus, about 25,000 acres of hybrid poplar,
or 15,000 acres of algae.
Who has production costs and capacities in that range in the near term, say by
the time alcohol-to-jet is expected to be approved in 2014? On paper, there’s
Solena, Joule, Coskata, LanzaTech, Algenol, ZeaChem, and Rentech. Joule needs
to get its major demo running, and then is looking to scale in New Mexico. ZeaChem,
Coskata, and LanzaTech are furiously on the hustings to secure financing for
scale. Solena’s path to financing is still not fully clear, either. Now, Renetch
just raised a lot of dollars in the spin-off of Rentech Nitrogen, enough for
a scale-up in Mississippi. Leaving Algenol as a wild-card – could they lay in
15,000 acres or so of capacity by 2015? If so, they are a dark horse to grab first
mover advantage in this key segment.
Gevo, Solazyme, LS9 and Amyris off take will be generally shunted elsewhere for
some time to come – too many upside opportunities elsewhere. Sapphire Energy will
be scaling up later in the decade. Companies like Enerkem, Terrabon, Bluefire,
POET and Abengoa are more likely to focus on the road transport sector for now.
Other companies like Byogy will be brining forward development timelines in the
near future, but their path to scale and low-cost is not yet known.
Continental Airlines flight is first in U.S. to use biofuel
The Boeing 737-800 burned jet fuel derived partially from genetically modified
algae that feed on plant waste and produce oil. United Continental Holdings plans
to buy 20 million gallons a year of biofuel made by California firm Solazyme.
November 11, 2011 ( Los Angeles Times)
Reporting from Chicago — Continental Airlines flight 1403 made history when it
landed at O’Hare International Airport in Chicago on Monday, becoming the first
revenue passenger trip in the U.S. powered by biofuel.
The Boeing 737-800 burned a “green jet fuel” derived partially from genetically
modified algae that feed on plant waste and produce oil.
In completing the flight from Houston, parent company United Continental Holdings
Inc. won by two days the competition to launch the first biofuel-powered air service
in the U.S.
On Wednesday, Alaska Airlines started 75 passenger flights along with its sister
airline, Horizon Air, that will take place over the next few weeks using a biofuel
blend made from recycled cooking oil. The 20% biofuel blend the planes will use
will reduce carbon dioxide emissions 10%, Alaska Airlines officials said.
More U.S. airlines are expected to join the effort to fly cleaner — and eventually
more economically — than the use of traditional petroleum-based Jet-A fuel allows,
based on a crude oil price of $100 a barrel or higher, experts said.
But there are questions regarding how long it will take for biofuel to become
an economical alternative to traditional fuel and what the cost will be for the
financially struggling aviation industry.
Boeing Co. projects, for example, small-scale commercial production of new biofuels
derived from algae, sewage sludge or municipal waste beginning in as soon as three
United announced Monday that it had signed a letter of intent with Solazyme Inc.
of South San Francisco, which provided the biofuel for the Continental flight,
to buy 20 million gallons of algae-derived biofuel annually. Delivery will start
as early as 2014, officials said.
The move comes four months after international aviation regulators approved the
use of biofuels. In recent weeks, several airlines in Europe have operated biofuel-powered
flights. KLM Royal Dutch Airlines in June became the first airline in the world
to operate a commercial flight on biofuels.
Part of the beauty of using advanced biofuels is that no modifications are needed
to commercial airplanes; the biofuels are a drop-in replacement for high-octane
Jet-A, officials said.
“You don’t have any difference at all in terms of performance of the airplane
or operations by the pilot,” said Capt. Jackson Seltzer, a 25-year Continental
veteran who flew Monday’s flight to O’Hare from Bush International Airport in
The 737 was fueled with 60% traditional petroleum-based jet fuel and 40% aviation
biofuel made from algal oil, officials said.
The technology converts inedible natural oils and wastes into a more environmentally
friendly jet fuel that offers as much as an 85% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions
compared with fossil fuels, officials said.
United officials declined to estimate how long it would take to integrate alternative
fuels into their system, but they noted that the airline used 3.3 billion gallons
of Jet-A in 2010 at a cost of about $13.5 billion.
Pete McDonald, United Airlines’ executive vice president and chief operations
officer, said the cost of Monday’s biofuel flight was “about the same” as a regular
The 20 million gallons that United plans to buy from Solazyme represents 0.6%
of the airline’s jet fuel consumption, said Jimmy Samartzis, United’s managing
director of global environment affairs and sustainability.
“The bottom line for us is this is another example of actions that are needed
to be taken to commercialize advanced biofuel production,” Samartzis said.
Solazyme officials, who dubbed their algae-derived fuel Solajet, shared the optimism.
“We founded the company in a garage in Palo Alto eight years ago,” said Harrison
Dillon, Solazyme’s president and chief technology officer. “Today is a historic
day and we’ve come a long way, but we have a lot of growth ahead.”
Fuel accounts for the largest segment, 36%, of airline industry operating costs,
according to the International Air Transport Assn.
The aviation sector, which was responsible for 2% of total carbon dioxide emissions
in 2000, will increase its share to 3% by 2030, according to research by McKinsey
This is an article by the body that promotes Indonesian palm oil. So it is ludicrously
biased in favour of using as much palm oil as possible, making as much money as
possible, and to hell with the consequences. It hugely plays down environmental
impacts of growing palm oil and talks about doubling existing palm oil growing
in order to provide 1% of all aviation fuel by 2015. And then an extra 1% added
each year, up to 12% when Indonesia grows double its current amount. And up to
For many years, the aviation industry has been criticized for its high carbon
GHG emission. Of the total global emissions, 56 % comes from burning of fossil
fuels and 17 % from agriculture. The aviation industry alone contributes 649,000,000
tonnes of GHG emission annually which represents 2 to 3 % of the total globally!
The Boeing Company and other aviation industry operators held a Forum in Kuala
Lumpur recently to explore new sources of renewable biofuels for the aviation
In comparison, calculations reveal that emissions from the oil palm industry
are indeed very small. The world oil palm area of 14 million hectares is only
0.25% of global agricultural land. Therefore, the GHG emission from the oil palm
industry is 0.25% x 17% or 0.04% of the total global GHG emission. At the country
level, Malaysia’s oil palm cultivated area of 4.85 million hectares represents
34.6% of the world’s oil palm cultivated area and hence its GHG footprint is 34.6%
x 0.04 % or 0.014% of the global GHG emission. Even doubling the cultivated area
for oil palm in Malaysia would see a negligible increase of its GHG footprint
to 0.028% of global emission.
The negligibly small GHG footprint of the oil palm industry has attracted the
aviation industry operators (hence their presence in Kuala Lumpur for the Forum)
to consider the use of palm oil biofuel to help reduce emission levels from the
aviation industry. As indicated above, doubling the production of palm oil in
Malaysia will not add much to the carbon footprint of the oil palm industry, instead,
it will provide 18 million tonnes or 8.6 billion gallons more of potential jet
biofuel. Total consumption of aviation fuel per year is estimated at 70 billion
gallons. A 12 % replacement of the world aviation biofuel can be achieved if the
Malaysian production can be doubled to cater to this demand.
The road map for inclusion of biofuel in aviation fuel begins modestly with an
initial blend share of 1 % by 2015. This could be increased gradually with an
improvement of 1% additional biofuel in the fuel blend annually so that GHG emissions
will be maintained at current levels despite exponential growth in future global
air travels. Malaysian palm oil potentially fits the road map due to its ability
to replace a moderate (12%) percentage of world aviation biofuel demand. Palm
oil from other sources could also be considered until a long term plan by the
aviation industry to meet its target replacement of 50% blend of biofuel in aviation
fuel is achieved.
Such large demand for bio-renewable aviation fuel can be supplemented if the
biomass generated by the oil palm industry can be harnessed for conversion into
aviation biofuel. Palm oil makes up only 10 % of the biomass produced by the oil
palm tree. The remaining 90% (dry weight basis) can be partly converted into biofuel
using BTL technology or bio-refinery which is being developed rapidly around the
Only palm oil can provide a solution for practical consideration. Other oilseeds
cannot produce the quantities envisaged because of the inherent low yield per
hectare per year of between 5 to 11 times less than that of palm oil.
Figure 1 below shows countries capable of supplying excess vegetable oil into
the world market which are limited to Malaysian and Indonesian palm oil producers.
With doubling of production through productivity and hectarage expansion, and
employing other palm biomass for further conversion into aviation fuel, the availability
could well meet the future target of having 50% blend of biofuel into the aviation
Palm oil meets the certification criteria for sustainability as many producers
in Malaysia have volunteered to participate in the certification schemes and have
obtained their certificates from certifying bodies such as the RSPO and ISCC.
A minor obstacle to the successful implementation of the aviation biofuel plan
is the relatively high cost of biofuel in comparison to petroleum derived aviation
fuel. Lack of an excess supply from other vegetable oils and a high demand for
palm oil for food will cause market forces to price palm oil above petroleum fuel.
Otherwise, palm oil will be burned as fuel. This will ensure that its price will
remain above the price of petroleum fuel and petroleum price will be the floor
price for palm and other vegetable oils.
With the planned expansion of oil palm production, the necessary increase in
supply to meet the needs of the aviation industry can be achieved. The food versus
fuel debate does not apply as the main consideration is which profitable crop
to plant on a scarce available agricultural land (large areas of degraded land
not under forest reserves) where oil palm can be grown. Non-food oil crops such
as jatropha can also be grown on degraded land but it yields only 20 % that of
oil palm and is far more expensive to produce thus making it a much less attractive
Consumers worldwide must be willing to pay the cost to reduce carbon GHG emission
from the aviation industry. Plans by EU to impose carbon tax on the aviation sector
are a step in the right direction. It is imperative that the money raised goes
to compensate farmers who toil to produce the extra supply of raw material for
the aviation fuel industry. Currently, much emphasis has been placed on the certification
process for sustainability that the administrative charge consumes up to 80% of
the money raised to incentivize the production of renewable biofuel. Ironically,
the cost for employing auditors and paying for membership fee of certification
bodies is more than the rate of compulsory research funding imposed on the Malaysian
palm oil industry!
New opportunities for an increased supply of palm oil based aviation biofuel
can be realised through more research and allocation of funds. However, if the
cost of certification is higher than the investment in research, and if the carbon
tax benefits only the bureaucracy, this will result in a slow development of aviation
biofuel from oil palm sources. Development of aviation biofuel from other vegetable
oils will be next to impossible. Oil palm is the only viable solution in the long
The choice is limited for the aviation industry. It cannot harness hydro, wind
or solar power to fly jet planes. Most other plant biomass has low output to input
energy ratio of 3:1 compared to 9:1 for oil palm. Oil palm is the best and only
choice so far until miracles occur or algae technology becomes successful. Even
petroleum fuel is not the most viable choice in the long term; its supply is finite
and the topping point curve (Fig 2) shows that supply will start to decline in
a few years from its peak. By then almost everything will be expensive except
sustainably produced raw materials such as palm oil if future development in production
capacity is well planned with adequate upfront investment in R & D.
New study by Leicester University suggests EU biofuels are as carbon intensive
Date Added: 5th November 2011
The new study was conducted for the International Council on Clean Transportation,
an international think tank that wished to assess the greenhouse gas emissions
associated with biodiesel production. Biodiesel mandates increase palm oil demand,
and more is now being imported by the EU from Indonesia. The study found the scale
of greenhouse gas emissions from oil palm plantations on peat is significantly
higher than previously assumed.
The new study was conducted for the International Council on Clean Transportation,
an international think tank that wished to assess the greenhouse gas emissions
associated with biodiesel production. Biodiesel mandates increase palm oil demand,
and more is now being imported by the EU from Indonesia. The study found the scale
of greenhouse gas emissions from oil palm plantations on peat is significantly
higher than previously assumed – about 80 tonnes, rather than 50 tonnes of carbon
per hectare per year.
A new study on greenhouse gas emissions from oil palm plantations has calculated
a more than 50% increase in levels of CO2 emissions than previously thought – and warned that the demand for ‘green’ biofuels
could be costing the earth.
The study from the University of Leicester was conducted for the International
Council on Clean Transportation, an international think tank that wished to assess
the greenhouse gas emissions associated with biodiesel production. Biodiesel mandates can increase palm oil
demand directly (the European Biodiesel Board recently reported big increases
in biodiesel imported from Indonesia) and also indirectly, because palm oil is
the world’s most important source of vegetable oil and will replace oil from rapeseed
or soy in food if they are instead used to make biodiesel.
The University of Leicester researchers carried out the first comprehensive literature
review of the scale of greenhouse gas emissions from oil palm plantations on tropical peatland in Southeast Asia. In contrast
to previous work, this study also provides an assessment of the scientific methods
used to derive emissions estimates.
They discovered that many previous studies were based on limited data without
appropriate recognition of uncertainties and that these studies have been used
to formulate current biofuel policies.
The Leicester team established that the scale of greenhouse gas emissions from
oil palm plantations on peat is significantly higher than previously assumed.
They concluded that a value of 86 tonnes of carbon dioxide (CO2) per hectare per year (annualised over 50 years) is the most robust currently
available estimate; this compares with previous estimates of around 50 tonnes
of carbon dioxide (CO2) per hectare per year.
CO2 emissions increase further if you are interested specifically in the short term
greenhouse gas implications of palm oil production – for instance under the EU
Renewable Energy Directive which assesses emissions over 20 years, the corresponding
emissions rate would be 106 tonnes of carbon dioxide (CO2) per hectare per year.
The findings have been published as an International White Paper from the ICCT.
Ross Morrison, of the University of Leicester Department of Geography, said:
“Although the climate change impacts of palm oil production on tropical peatland
are becoming more widely recognised, this research shows that estimates of emissions
have been drawn from a very limited number of scientific studies, most of which
have underestimated the actual scale of emissions from oil palm. These results
show that biofuels causing any significant expansion of palm on tropical peat
will actually increase emissions relative to petroleum fuels. When produced in
this way, biofuels do not represent a sustainable fuel source”.
Dr Sue Page, Reader in Physical Geography at the University of Leicester, added:
“Tropical peatlands in Southeast Asia are a globally important store of soil carbon
– exceeding the amount stored in tropical forest vegetation. They are under enormous
pressure from plantation development. Projections indicate an increase in oil palm plantations on peat to a total area
of 2.5Mha by the year 2020 in western Indonesia alone –an area equivalent in size to the land area of the United Kingdom.”
Growth in palm oil production has been a key component of meeting growing global
demand for biodiesel over recent decades.
This growth has been accompanied by mounting concern over the impact of the oil
palm business on tropical forests and carbon dense peat swamp forests in particular.
Tropical peatland is one of Earth’s largest and most efficient carbon sinks. Development
of tropical peatland for agriculture and plantations removes the carbon sink capacity
of the peatland system with large carbon losses arising particularly from enhanced
peat degradation and the loss of any future carbon sequestration by the native
peat swamp forest vegetation.
Although there have been a number of assessments on greenhouse gas emissions
from palm oil production systems, estimates of greenhouse gas emissions from land
use have all been based on the results of a limited number of scientific studies.
A general consensus has emerged that emissions from peat degradation have not
yet been adequately accounted for.
Conditions at a mature oil palm plantation site, 18 years after conversion: (left
image) open canopy (causing increased soil temperatures), limited ground cover
(causing lowered soil moisture content), intensive fertilization (white patches
around palm trunks), and (right image) a loose top soil structure (leaning oil
The results of the Leicester study are important because an increase in the greenhouse
gas emissions associated with biodiesel from palm oil, even if expansion on peat
only occurs indirectly, will negate any savings relative to the use of diesel
derived from fossil fuel.
If these improved estimates are applied to recent International Food Policy Research
Institute modelling of the European biofuel market , they imply that on average
biofuels in Europe will be as carbon intensive as petrol , with all biodiesel
from food crops worse than fossil diesel and the biggest impact being a 60% increase
in the land use emissions resulting from palm oil biodiesel. Bioethanol or biodiesel
from waste cooking oil, on the other hand, could still offer carbon savings.
This outcome has important implications for European Union policies on climate
and renewable energy sources.
Dr Sue Page said: “It is important that the full greenhouse gas emissions ‘cost’
of biofuel production is made clear to the consumer, who may otherwise be mislead
into thinking that all biofuels have a positive environmental impact. In addition
to the high greenhouse gas emissions associated with oil palm plantations on tropical
peatlands, these agro-systems have also been implicated in loss of primary rainforest
and associated biodiversity, including rare and endangered species such as the
orang-utan and Sumatran tiger.
Oil palm plantations on peat: note the leaning trunks owing to low load-bearing
capacity of peat soils.
“We are very excited by the outcomes of our research – our study has already
been accepted and used by several scientists, NGOs, economists and policy advisors
in Europe and the USA to better represent the scale of greenhouse gas emissions
from palm oil biodiesel production and consumption.
“The findings of this research will be used by organisations such as the US Environmental
Protection Agency, European Commission and California Air Resources Board to more
fully account for greenhouse gas emissions and their uncertainties from biofuel
produced from palm oil. This is essential in identifying the least environmentally damaging biofuel
production pathways, and the formulation of national and international biofuel
and transportation policies.”
Dr Chris Malins of the ICCT said, “Peat degradation under oil palm is a major source of emissions from biodiesel production. Recognising that emissions
are larger than previously thought will help regulators such as the US Environmental
Protection Agency (EPA), European Commission (EC) and California Air Resources
Board (CARB) identify which biofuel pathways are likely to lead to sustainable greenhouse gas emissions reductions”.
Subsidence pole inserted in peatland in Johor, peninsular Malaysia. The pole
was inserted beside an oil palm plantation in 1978 and at the time of this photograph
(2007), 2.3 m of subsidence had occurred (the human “measuring stick,” Dr. Chris
Banks, is 2 meters tall).
Sir David Rowlands, in a speech to the AOA criticised the industry’s obsession
with flaunting its green credentials via announcements about biofuel flights.
He said airlines and airports are failing to engage with environmental groups.
‘What it does not mean is lone voices shouting ‘hey – look at us we have just
flown one of our aircraft on chip fat!’ Just look at the reaction from environmental
commentators to what has been happening with biofuels.’
Gatwick chairman: aviation industry in ‘dialogue of deaf’ with green groups
Gatwick chairman David Rowlands said aviation companies need to show how they
can reduce carbon emissions
The aviation industry is mired in a “dialogue of the deaf” with the environmental
lobby and is failing to set out a roadmap for tackling climate change, according
to the chairman of Gatwick Airport.
Sir David Rowlands said the sector invested too much effort in relaying facts
– such as its contribution to global warming – rather than setting out how it
will make meaningful contributions to carbon dioxide reduction. Criticising the
industry’s obsession with flaunting its green credentials via announcements about
biofuel flights, Rowlands warned that airlines and airports are failing to engage
with environmental groups.
“What it does not mean is lone voices shouting ‘hey – look at us we have just
flown one of our aircraft on chip fat!’ That is not a dialogue. Unless what you
want is a dialogue of the deaf. Just look at the reaction from environmental commentators
to what has been happening recently with biofuels.”
Rowlands, former permanent secretary at the Department for Transport, has emerged
alongside International Airlines Group’s Willie Walsh as the industry’s most vocal
critic of government aviation policy. This year he dismissed as “total nonsense” the government’s argument that a high-speed rail link can mitigate the ban on
a third runway at Heathrow.
However, in a speech at the annual conference of the Airport Operators Association
today, Rowlands will turn his fire on a private sector that struggles to muster
a united voice on the environment owing to the daily competitive cut-and-thrust
between its constituents. “This industry needs to work together and speak with
one voice if it is to have any hope of a grown up dialogue.”
Rowlands believes the aviation industry, which accounts for about 6% of UK carbon
dioxide emissions, is inviting criticism by failing to outline ways in which it
can alleviate rising greenhouse gas emissions. Urging the industry to sit down
with “the more responsible end” of the green movement, he said airlines, airports
and airplane makers needed to answer the “what next” question that any significant
CO2 emitter must answer.
“We need to show that we are ready to work towards solutions which reasonable
and pragmatic people on both sides of the environmental debate can agree upon.”
In a challenge to the Sustainable Aviation body, the industry green group whose
backers include British Airways and Heathrow owner BAA, he said the organisation
needed to be better funded and independent from its founders.
“It needs to be independent – and seen to be independent – of any particular
set of aviation interests. And it means this industry willingly accepting a more
collective approach, agreeing to focus its efforts for the collective good and
starting a real dialogue with people who are genuinely concerned about our impact
on the environment.”
An Air China Boeing 747-400 took off from the Beijing airport, flew for 2 hours,
and landed back at Beijing. It used 50% jatropha. This is one of a series of
research projects launched last year by the US and China, the world’s two biggest
oil consumers. The fuel was developed by Boeing, Honeywell UOP, Chinese oil company
PetroChina and Air China. They say a commercial biofuel should be available in
three to five years.
BEIJING — A Boeing jumbo jet powered by fuel made from oily nuts made a two-hour
test flight Friday as part of a U.S.-Chinese renewable energy partnership.
The fuel, based on the oily nuts of the jatropha tree, is one of a series of
research projects launched last year by the United States and China, the world’s
two biggest oil consumers. The two governments say they want the research to reduce
pollution and spur the growth of new industries.
The fuel was developed by Boeing, Honeywell UOP, Chinese oil company PetroChina
and Air China. They say a commercial biofuel should be available in three to five
Government and company officials watched as an Air China Boeing 747-400 powered
by a mix of half biofuel and half standard aviation fuel took off from the Beijing
airport and flew for two hours before landing at the same field.
“This is a very important step. It is a milestone for the Chinese airline industry,”
said He Li, an Air China vice president. “It will help us a lot to reduce carbon
emissions and provide us more choices for aviation fuel.”
Boeing said earlier that the goal of the research is to develop biofuel that
can be used in commercial jetliners with no engine modifications. The company
said last year four test flights with biofuel had been flown in the United States.