Biofuels News

Below are links to stories about aviation biofuels.

Critics attack secrecy at UN’s ICAO CAEP committee, tasked with cutting global airline CO2 emissions

A UN ICAO committee, Committee on Aviation and Environmental Protection (CAEP), with the job of cutting global aircraft carbon emissions (an issue of global concern) is meeting secretly, for discussions dominated by airline industry observers. The committee always meets behind closed doors; the press and other observers are not allowed in (unlike other UN committees).  The committee's agenda and discussion documents are not released to the public or the international press. Anyone who leaks documents being discussed faces “unlimited liability for confidentiality breaches”, according to ICAO rules.  The only non-governmental body not linked to the airline industry allowed into the meeting is the International Coalition for Sustainable Aviation (ICSA), made up of a small group of international environmental NGOs. Transparency International says “Agencies which set common global standards for large, international industries have to be transparent in order to prevent capture by corporate interests ... "  A key concern is that the committee wants to certify biofuels, that are definitely NOT environmentally sustainable, as low carbon. And also fossil oil, produced using solar energy - also NOT a low carbon fuel. The committee needs to be open to public scrutiny.

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ICAO’s CORSIA low standards on biofuels risk undercutting EU’s new renewables rules

The UN's ICAO is a secretive organisation, that has been woefully ineffective in limiting the CO2 emissions of global aviation. There are considerable concerns that it will try to get bad biofuels certified as low carbon, in order to whitewash the sector's emissions in future. The global deal, CORSIA, making the first tentative steps towards restricting aviation CO2 at all is just starting. There is, elsewhere, growing understanding that biofuels are generally not the way forward, and their real lifecycle carbon emissions are far higher than their proponents make out. ICAO has now agree 2 criteria (out of 12 possible) for aviation biofuels. These are that there should have been no deforestation after 2009; and there should be at least a saving of 10% of green house gas emissions, (including emissions from indirect land-use change or ILUC) compared to fossil jet kerosene. ICAO's environment committee will develop rules for what biofuels can be credited – ie. how much of an emissions reduction each biofuel delivers.  The effect can only be accurately accounted for using models. There is a serious danger they will try and include palm oil. And countries like Saudi Arabia are trying to get "lower carbon" fossil fuels included, if their production can be 10% more carbon efficient.  So aviation will continue to emit vast amounts of carbon for decades....

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Malaysian airlines back Malaysian campaign to boost palm oil production and use

A Malaysian newspaper comments on the Ministry of Primary Industries’ year-long “Love MY Palm Oil” campaign. It aims to fight anti-palm oil campaigns that backers of palm oil growing say are threatening people’s livelihoods.  Now 3 Malaysian airlines have joined the campaign, Malaysia Airlines, Malindo Airways and AirAsia.  The airlines, with Malaysia Airports Holdings Bhd (MAHB), "will extol the virtues of palm oil through their digital info screens, in-flight magazines and entertainment systems, art and product displays." The Primary Industries minister says they are displaying "patriotism" and elevating the image of palm oil.  This followed the European Parliament’s Committee on Environment, Public Health and Food Safety (ENVI) passing a resolution in October 2018 to ban palm oil biofuels in Europe by 2020.  Malaysia and Indonesia are the largest producers of palm oil globally.  Malaysia's Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad is due to hold the official launch of the “Love MY Palm Oil” campaign in the first quarter of 2019. [Palm oil as a fuel for aircraft is a disaster, as its life-cycle carbon emissions are high, taking into account the Indirect Land Use Change (ILUC) impacts. Not to mention the deforestation and loss of biodiversity. But palm oil would be cheap fuel for airlines, regardless of how environmentally harmful it is ....]

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Report by Biofuelwatch shows Neste, planning to make bio-jet-fuel, is using huge amounts of palm oil

A report by Biofuelwatch reveals that the Finnish biofuel and oil company Neste, which expects to become the world’s biggest producer of aviation biofuels in 2019, relies heavily on palm oil, a leading cause of rainforest destruction. It cannot even guarantee that its palm oil is not sourced from illegal plantations inside a national park. Neste is investing €1.4 billion in new biofuel capacity in its Singapore refinery, which the company plans to turn into a hub for aviation biofuel production. It is already one of the world’s biggest producers of biofuels for road transport. In 2017, Neste used almost 700,000 tonnes of crude palm oil - as fuel - as well as an undisclosed amount of crude palm oil, which the company claims to be ‘wastes and residues’, contrary to legislation in several European countries.  The oil palm plantations and mills supplying Neste are mainly in Indonesian and Malaysian provinces with particularly high deforestation rates linked to palm oil. Some is proven to come from an illegal plantation in a national park in Sumatra. Neste’s sustainability standards take no account of indirect land use change (ILUC) which mean the climate impact of palm oil is x3 as bad as the fossil fuels it replaces. Neste continues to try to hide the fact it is using palm oil, and exacerbating deforestation and biodiversity loss.

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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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