Biofuels News

Below are links to stories about aviation biofuels.

South African project to produce biojet fuel from “Solaris” tobacco – competing with food for land

Boeing and South African Airways plan to collaborate with SkyNRG and Sunchem SA to produce fuel from the nicotine-free Solaris variety of tobacco plant which South African Airways will test in flight. They are calling this "Project Solaris" and the first 50 hectares of Solaris have been planted in Limpopo province. The test crop will be harvested for the first time in December 2014, and the first test flights could begin next year. The aim is to provide new economic opportunities for small farmers, and fuel security, and much is being made of jobs created with new skills. Though some oil is found in tobacco seeds, the plants few, so oil is derived from the leaves. South African Airways hopes to use 20 million litres of biofuel in 2017, before reaching 400 million litres by 2023. SkyNRG hope to have 250,000 hectares planted with Solaris by 2025. When the oil price was high, there were hopes the tobacco-derived jet fuel would save money, but now the price of oil has tumbled, the scheme finances may be different. If the test farming in Limpopo is successful, the project will be expanded in South Africa and potentially to other countries. However, growing tobacco completes with food - as the crop needs water and fertiliser to grow economically. It is therefore diverting land away from food production

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Oslo airport, Statoil and SkyNRG attempting to promote “sustainable” jet fuels from wood residues & wastes

Oslo airport is hoping to get regular deliveries of biofuel, so it becomes available much of the time. Avinor, which owns the airport, has signed an agreement with Statoil Aviation. The plan is for Statoil to start delivering biofuel in March 2015, with 2,5 million liters in the first year. Biofuel is only ever used as 50% of the fuel mix in any flight. Currently the only biofuel available comes from used cooking oil. However there are plans to explore the possibility of forest-based large-scale production of aviation bio-fuel. But that is still a long way off, especially for biofuel comparable in price to conventional jet kerosene, the price of which has fallen recently. Aviation biofuel proponents are keen to get both production and use up, to get the price down. Whether biomass comes from forestry work, or wood waste, it is very far from sustainable. The nutrients in wood products need to be returned to the soils in which they grew, to maintain fertility. Biofuels are not carbon neutral, as the presumption that all the carbon emitted on burning is rapidly reabsorbed by vegetation is wrong. Regrowing an equivalent sized tree, and sequestering the carbon, in reality could take decades.

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US research says claims airports are a city’s “economic engine” are overstated, especially compared to other local infrastructure

An Associate Professor at the University of Illinois, Julie Cidell, has investigated some of the claims made by airports, in the US in particular, that they are important drivers of the economy. And she is not persuaded that any better than other major bits of infrastructure. Julie has looked at the 25 largest US airports, and their benefits, compared to the costs - the latter being very high for airports. Often economic benefits accrue to areas distant from the airport, so those suffering the noise, pollution and traffic congestion get little advantage, but huge disadvantage. She also finds that airports tend to have other economic activity around them, but that is not necessarily connected directly to the airport. Correlation and causation are different. Often the jobs in the vicinity of an airport are due to nearby industry, and good transport links - not due to air travel. Jobs could just as easily be created by these other sectors, causing far less negative local impact, let alone carbon emissions. While for some regional airports, an air link may bring economic growth - for major cities, it is the other way round.

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Study finds a carbon gap of 220 million tonnes in 2023 will require offsetting by the airline industry

A very readable, short, paper by ICF sets out the extent to which global aviation will not be able to make the carbon reductions it claims will be possible. ICF looked at the global commitment by the industry to make fuel efficiency gains of 1.5% annually to 2020, and then "carbon neutral growth" from 2020 onwards - despite annual growth in passengers of about 4-5% per year. ICF concludes that even with improvements in aircraft technology, airline efficiencies and operational improvements, together with the introduction of 6% biofuels, there will be a sizeable 23% carbon gap between commercial aviation forecasts and industry targets by 2023. Without that much biofuel (which ICF considers unlikely) the gap would be 27%. Without industry efficiencies and biofuels, global aviation would be emitting about 53% more carbon in 2023 than now. ICF believes carbon offsetting to be the most cost-effective way to close the carbon gap - but that only means aviation buying carbon credits from other sectors which are actually reducing their emissions, while aviation can then continue to increase theirs.

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BA hopes to get government help & subsidies to fund the “Shangri-la” of “sustainable” jet fuels

BA claims using a tiny proportion of jet fuel, derived from used cooking oil, or from municipal waste, will make dramatic cuts in its carbon emissions. The reality is that of all the publicity flights made so far, of airlines using around 20% jet fuel from biological origins, the vast majority have been using used cooking oil. That is the only fuel that can be seen as environmentally sustainable, and not compete with food resources or with land for growing food. There is, of course, a limited amount of used cooking oil - and most of this is already snapped up by other, terrestrial users, such as for a diesel substitute or for pharmaceuticals. So the aviation industry has not found its "get out of jail free" card by using biofuels. And the industry demands that, for biofuels to be cheap and plentiful enough, there need to be government subsidies, from the taxpayer. The industry says "airlines and the rest of the industry cannot do it alone – political support and financial investment will have to come from a number of stakeholders." With Solena, BA is building a much publicised factory in Essex to convert London waste into fuel. However, there may well be better uses for this waste - for instance, making fuel for necessary local council, or emergency services vehicles. Why jet fuel?

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BMI starts a few flights from Karlstad in Sweden using small amounts of biofuel from waste wood products

In Sweden, biofuels-powered flights have begun, operated by BMI between Karlstad and Frankfurt and by Nextjet between Karlstad and Stockholm. Karlstad Airport has just become the first airport in Europe to install a fixed storage tank facility for aviation biofuel. There are only tiny amounts of the biofuel available, and it costs 3 - 4 times as much as conventional jet fuel. British Midland Regional is keen to do more flights, using a proportion of biofuel. SkyNRG (Dutch) has teamed up with Statoil Fuel & Retail to establish a climate compensation fund. The fund will initially cover the difference between the cost of normal aviation fuel and biofuel. In the longer term the fund will also support research. "Businesses, the public sector and private individuals can make contributions." [!?] The fuel would come from wood or wood waste products. The Karlstad region in Sweden has a large pulp and paper industry, with many companies collaborating to form the "Paper Province."

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Location just west of Canvey Island named as BA / Solena plant to make jet fuel from London urban waste

A site for the project, by BA and Solena, to convert landfill waste into jet fuel has finally been announced, after long delays. The site will be in the Thames Enterprise Park, a regeneration project just east of London on the Thames estuary (a few miles west of Canvey Island). The site includes the redundant former Coryton Oil Refinery. Work on building the GreenSky facility is expected to start in 2015 and be completed in 2017. BA is providing construction capital and has committed to purchasing all the jet fuel produced by the plant, around 16 million gallons a year, for the next 11 years at market competitive prices. BA is hoping that this 2% contribution to its fuel consumption will give it green credibility, and it will claim it cuts its carbon emissions. In reality, if liquid fuels can be made from urban waste, there is no reason why aviation needs to be the user of them - especially as aviation intends to greatly increase its total fuel consumption in coming decades. Liquid fuels that can genuinely be considered "sustainable" could be used by any other consumer. If aviation appropriates these "sustainable" fuels, and uses increasing amounts of fuel, the net effect is that other users have to use high carbon fuels. No net benefit. Other than in (flimsy) green PR terms for BA.

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Norwegian airport operator Avinor to invest heavily in national aviation biofuel production

Norway’s state-owned airport operator and air navigation services provider Avinor has said it will contribute up to $16.5 million equivalent over a 10-year period to help develop an aviation biofuel sector in Norway. Avinor said that its alleged "carbon neutral growth" could only be achieved if biofuels are a key part of the solution. Norwegian advocates of aviation biofuel say biomass for producing biofuels should be reserved for the transport sector, in particular aviation, where there are few alternative options to fossil fuels. They claim aviation is key in getting tourist money into Norway, and regional development - and for some reason, they should be getting whatever biofuel is available, claiming “This is a matter of both social responsibility and benefit to society.” The Norwegian aviation industry may be aware that they are seen as high carbon, but appear not to comprehend that if aviation claims any genuinely low carbon fuels, that merely means some other sector is likely to have to use higher carbon fuel instead. Not everything can use renewably sourced electricity. The carbon emissions are merely shifted elsewhere, for aviation to try to look "green."

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Developments of “sustainable” jet fuels continue ponderously, hoping to ramp up supply

In a thorough over-view of current progress by various airlines and biofuel companies across the world, GreenAir Online goes through the main initiatives. In London, it is possible that the British Airways and Solena plant, to make jet fuel from London's rubbish, might start to be built in 2015, though a site has not yet been announced. KLM is hoping to do flights from Amsterdam starting in May using biofuels produced by the ITAKA consortium – a Europe-wide collaboration of interests involving Airbus, Embraer, Neste Oil, SkyNRG, Manchester Metropolitan University and others. This was intended to use camelina grown in Spain as the main source of biomass for the fuel but this has proved “challenging”. Used cooking oil is therefore likely to be the source of the fuel for the May flights. There are initiatives in the Middle East with Etihad working with Boeing, Honeywell UOP, Safran and the Masdar Institute. In Abu Dhabi, there is an initiative developing the Integrated Seawater Energy and Agriculture System (ISEAS) that grows salt-water tolerant Salicornia halophyte plants for use as biomass to produce fuels. And there are others - still expensive, still experimental, still not actually "green" or "sustainable."

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British Airways + Solena plant to make jet fuel from London’s rubbish – announcement soon?

GreenAir online gives an update on the anticipated biofuel plant (costing around $500 million) to be built in east London, to produce diesel and jet fuel. GreenAir says that according to British Airways’ a 20-acre (8ha) site has been selected for its GreenSky project with Solena and an announcement is expected within weeks. Getting the required planning permission had proved “extremely challenging." GreenSky will convert around 600,000 tonnes of London municipal waste into 50,000 tonnes of biojet and 50,000 tonnes of biodiesel annually, and will - they hope - meet BA’s total fuel needs at London City Airport. BA hope they can claim annual carbon savings of up to 145,000 tonnes of CO2. “It’s very much a demonstration plant for us. If we can prove this works commercially then we will build a number of them in the UK – potentially up to six – at this scale or even bigger." “The economics is driven by a current UK landfill tax of about £80 per tonne, so the scheme hopes to get the rubbish cheaply - saving councils the landfill tax. Under its 10-year contract with Solena, BA will purchase all the fuel produced by the plant. They hope to start building in early 2015 and start producing fuel in 2017.

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