Biofuels News

Below are links to stories about aviation biofuels.

Warning at UN Biodiversity Conference that humanity’s rush into biofuels/biomass will devastate global biodiversity

Growing enough plants to provide biomass and biofuels, that are meant to slow climate change (climate breakdown) compared to burning fossil fuels, will need a biofuel land grab: a 10 to 30-fold rise in land devoted to these crops from the level now. This means the destruction of the habitats for plants and animals, seriously undermining the essential global biodiversity. This warning was spelt out at the UN Biodiversity Conference in Egypt by Anne Larigauderie, executive secretary of the  Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services, IPBES.  The latest IPCC report, on limiting climate warming to 1.5°C, had given “a sense of extreme urgency" for ways to cut CO2 emissions, fast. But this mean "tradeoffs and synergies between climate, biodiversity and land degradation.”  More land would be used for monocultures of plants like maize. Perhaps by 2050 up to 724 million hectares, an area almost the size of Australia, might be used for biofuel crops - compared to perhaps 15 to 30m ha now. There is very little "marginal land" that could be used for these crops (they need water etc, and decent soils). This use of biomass will inevitably have "negative consequences for biodiversity.”  By contrast, reforestation and forest protection helps reduce carbon more effectively.

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CCC concludes there is limited scope for biofuels for aviation – even that not without risks

The Committee on Climate Change (CCC) has been looking at the future role of biomass, to try to cut the UK's CO2 emissions. In their report  they look at how much biofuel the UK aviation sector should be expecting to use by 2050. The AEF has been assessing the CCC report, and say the UK aviation sector cannot rely on biofuel use to offset CO2 emissions growth. Only limited supply of sustainable biomass is likely to be available in future, and it should be used carefully to tackle climate change. The CCC warns that too much hope of biofuel use in future could delay or discourage work on other ways of reducing emissions (i.e. fuel efficiency and limiting demand for flying).” The CCC advises that we shouldn’t plan for aviation biofuel to exceed 10% of total aviation fuel use by 2050. More would risk diverting sustainable biomass from more carbon efficient uses, such as timber for construction, or industrial uses when combined with Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS). CO2 released by aircraft in flight cannot be captured. Significant emissions are associated with the manufacture of aviation biofuel from biomass. The CCC says CCS must be used in this biofuel manufacture, or otherwise producing and burning aviation biofuel could result in even higher emissions than simply burning fossil fuels.

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DfT, always trying to make aviation growth look “green”, to pay £434,000 to fund waste-to-jetfuel project

A project to turn landfill waste into (quotes) "sustainable" jet fuel has received a major boost by securing almost £5m of funding from the government and industry backers. The DfT has committed £434,000 to fund the next stage of the project, which will involve engineering and site studies to scope potential for a waste-based jet fuel plant in the UK.  This will take hundreds of thousands of tonnes of waste - otherwise destined for landfill - and convert it into jet fuel. The project is being led by biofuels firm Velocys, which has committed £1.5m to the next phase of development. The scheme has also secured a further £3m from industry partners, including Shell and British Airways. BA hopes to use the fuel, to claim it is cutting its carbon emissions (while continuing to grow, burning ever more fuel). The DfT is keen to give the impression that UK aviation expansion is fine, if some biofuels, or alternative fuels, are used. The funding for the Velocys project is part of £22m alternative fuels fund from the government, to advance development of "sustainable" fuels for aviation and freight transport. As of April 2018 renewable jet fuel also qualifies for credits under the Renewable Transport Fuel Obligation (RTFO). 

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UN plans for aviation biofuels (ie. much from palm oil) & carbon offsets condemned by 89 organisations worldwide

89 organisations from 34 countries have called on the UN’s International Civil Aviation Agency (ICAO) to ditch plans for aviation biofuels and carbon offsets, as the Agency’s governing body convenes in Montreal to finalise proposals for a controversial “Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme”.  An Open Letter by the groups warns that ICAO’s proposal could incentivise airlines to use large quantities of biofuels made from palm oil in order to meet greenhouse gas targets – even though member states rejected biofuel targets last autumn amidst concerns about palm oil. Proposed biofuel targets for aircraft were rejected by member states in October 2017, but groups fear that the proposed new rules will introduce large-scale biofuel use ‘by the backdoor’.  On sustainability certification for palm oil, “none of the schemes has been effective at slowing down deforestation, peatland draining or the loss of biodiversity”. On carbon offsets, the organisations say “There is no way of reaching the goal to limit global warming to 1.5oC unless all states and sectors rapidly phase out their carbon emissions. This means that there can be no role for offsets”. Instead the growth of the aviation sector needs to be limited - rather than depending on greenwash.

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European Environment Agency: Reducing CO2 emissions from aviation ‘requires systemic change’ to cut demand

The EEA (European Environment Agency) says reducing CO2 emissions from Europe’s aviation and shipping industries requires systemic change, rather than simply improving efficiency. In a new report they say a massive shift in innovation, consumer behaviour and the take up of more ambitious green technologies to power aircraft and cargo ships are crucial. Both aviation and shipping have grown fast in recent years, and by 2050, the two are anticipated to contribute almost 40% of global CO2 emissions unless further mitigation is taken. Incremental small improvements in fuel efficiency will not be enough. For air travel, changes in lifestyle and culture are needed eg. more shift to rail and less demand for material imported material goods. Governments have a key role to play. The role of continuing subsidies to the aviation industry is important in maintaining high demand for air travel. There needs to be a change to the "attitude-action gap" whereby expressed "environmental  awareness by individuals does not translate into reductions in flight demand." ... " there will be a need for wider conversations around the types of lifestyle that will help enable sustainable mobility". They are not convinced aviation biofuels will be anything more than minimal.

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Qantas publicity flight using small % of biofuel from carinata – with hopes of using ever more of it

A Qantas 787 Dreamliner plane flew from Los Angeles to Melbourne recently, using a tiny bit of biofuel.  The fuel used was oil from the brassica carinata, an industrial type of mustard seed that functions as a fallow crop – grown by farmers in between regular crop cycles. The fuel was supplied by US company SG Preston. The plane used (probably in one engine?) 10% biofuel for the flight. The airline claims this meant a 7% reduction in CO2 emissions, but that is probably only if the biofuel is regarded (wrongly) as emitting almost no carbon.  It is claimed that "Compared pound for pound with jet fuel, carinata biofuel reduces emissions by 80% over the fuel’s life cycle." The big problem with the biodiesel industry in Australia is mainly the continuity of supply, as there is not enough land to grow it. One hectare of the crop can be used to produce 400 litres of aviation fuel. That means this flight, using about 24,000kg of carinata biofuel needed an area larger than the Vatican City to grow it. For 10% of one engine on one flight? Usually airlines promoting biofuel can only get hold of used cooking oil, which is about the only fuel that can claim to be really "sustainable" though it is only available in tiny amounts (and has other possible uses other than jetfuel). Qantas and other airlines are desperate to be able to locate any form of biofuel that might give the impression of cutting their carbon emissions.

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Large group of Dutch scientists demands end to crop-based biofuels in the EU

A group of 177 Dutch scientists have signed a letter urging the Netherlands to back a complete phase-out of crop-based biofuels at European level, calling them a “false solution to climate problems”. According to the EU's own data, the climate impact of biodiesel is on average 80% worse than fossil diesel.  The EU study found that crop-based biodiesel has on average 1.8 times the climate impact of fossil diesel, “and this number increases to 3 times more in the case of biodiesel from palm oil”.  Biodiesel accounts for 80% of all biofuels used in the EU, and around a third of this comes from palm oil, making drivers of cars and trucks the biggest consumers of palm oil in Europe. The remaining 20% is bioethanol, which is mainly made from home-grown crops such as sugar beet and wheat. The biofuels industry - predictably - is not pleased and claim the move would "slash investment in advanced biofuels." The push for ever more biofuels from plants is driving habitat and biodiversity loss, reducing areas’ resilience to local climatic conditions, undermining food security and increasing prices, and concentrating land in the hands of multinational companies at the expense of small-scale farmers. EU governments will discuss the future of biofuels at the Energy Council meeting on 18 December.  These fuels should never be allowed for the aviation sector.

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Likely that ICAO aims to drastically weaken “sustainability” standards for aviation biofuel, under CORSIA

The European Commission and EU member states look set to agree to almost entirely remove sustainability criteria for bio jet fuel at the UN’s aviation agency (ICAO) Council meeting in Montreal.  ICAO hopes that extensive use of biofuels in future will enable aviation CO2 emissions to be reduced, so the industry's continuous growth will not be hampered. Biofuels could only be properly environmentally sustainable in tiny quantities, if stringent standards are adhered to. But now the countries gathered at the ICAO meeting plan to trash 10 sustainability points out of 12, which will mean that highly unsustainable biofuels would qualify for the aviation’s global carbon offsetting scheme, CORSIA.  These sustainability rules have implications beyond CORSIA because they will become the de facto global standard for biofuel use in the aviation sector. The 10 points would mean removal of rules on land rights, food security, labour rights and biodiversity protection. It is likely the 2 remaining are for a 10% greenhouse gas reduction target for biofuels compared to regular jet fuel, and a ban on crops grown on land that was deforested after 2009. The NGO Transport & Environment says this shows how the CORSIA scheme is a shambles, and the EU should withdraw from it.

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Aviation biofuels plan would use palm oil and ‘destroy rainforests’ – warn 200+ environmental organisations

A new plan to accelerate production of biofuels for passenger planes has drawn stinging criticism from environmentalists who argue that most of the world’s rainforests might have to be cleared to produce the necessary crops. Aviation is one of the fastest growing sources of greenhouse gas emissions, with an 8% leap reported in Europe last year and a global fourfold increase in CO2 pollution expected by 2050. To rein this back, the industry is hoping for what it (unrealistically) calls "carbon neutral growth" by 2020 – to be met by biofuels, and offsets. The “green jet fuel” plan would increase the use of aviation biofuels to 5m tonnes per year by 2025, and 285m tonnes by 2050 – enough to cover half of overall demand for international aviation fuel. This is three times more biofuels than the world currently produces, and advanced biofuels are still at too early a stage of development to make up the difference. Environmentalists say that the most credible alternative fuel source would be hydrotreated vegetable oil (HVO), even though this would probably trigger a boom in palm oil plantations and a corresponding spike in deforestation. The vast use of palm oil for aviation biofuels would destroy the world’s rainforests, vital to life for local people and the habitats of endangered species such as orangutans. Over 200 environmental organisations are urging ICAO to scrap its misguided biofuels plan.

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Letter to ICAO, from hundreds of organisations, calling on it to oppose the promotion of biofuels in aviation

ICAO supports the aviation industry’s quest for unending rapid growth, a quest which is incompatible with keeping global warming to 1.5oC or even 2oC per (a goal endorsed by the Paris Agreement). Greenhouse gas emissions from international aviation alone grew by 87% between 1990 and 2014 and are rising faster than those from almost any other sector. Efficiency improvements lag far behind growth in the number of air passengers worldwide and there are no available techno-fixes which would allow planes to fly without burning hydrocarbon fuels. ICAO hopes for vast-scale use of biofuels in aircraft: it wants to see 128 million tonnes of biofuels a year being burned in plane engines by 2040, going up to 285 million tonnes (half of all aviation fuel) by 2050. By comparison, some 82 million tonnes of biofuels a year are currently used in transport worldwide.  The only aviation biofuels which can currently be produced reliably and at scale – although they are still expensive – are made from vegetable oils and animal fats, using a technology called hydrotreatment.  Any large-scale use of aviation biofuels made from hydrotreated vegetable oils (HVO) would almost certainly rely on palm oil. That would be an environmental disaster. See details of the letter to ICAO from Biofuelwatch signed by hundreds of organisations

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