Airbus and BA form consortium with Cranfield to explore feasibility of offshore algae for jet fuel production

21.9.2010 (GreenAir online)

Airbus and British Airways are to take part in a project set up by the UK’s Cranfield
University to explore how algae can be harvested in ocean-based facilities to
produce jet fuel in commercial quantities.

A consortium called the Sustainable Use of Renewable Fuels (SURF) has been set
by the three parties, along with Rolls-Royce, Finnair, London Gatwick Airport
and IATA, to serve as an advisory and steering group to Cranfield’s Sea Green

The university already has a pilot facility on campus that is growing and processing
algae for biofuels but the eventual aim is for Sea Green to set up sustainable
salt-water facilities, producing the first commercial quantities of biomass for
biofuels within three years.

The consortium aims to address five major considerations for the successful use
of renewable fuels from microalgae, including environmental impact; processing,
capacity and distribution; commercial; and legislation and regulation. Specific
studies will look at future sustainability modelling and environmental lifecycle

Sea Green will be designed to use the expanse of the world’s near-shore waters
to rapidly grow microalgae at a faster rate than any other initiative
and capture CO2 from the atmosphere and seas at the same time, says the consortium.

In addition to a "negative carbon mechanism" – meaning that net carbon is taken
out of the atmosphere – the facility will not compete with agricultural land,
require fresh water, result in deforestation or damage the environment, it claims.  
[The CO2 taken out of the air is intended to be put back into the air, by burning
the fuel, so a bit of a spurious claim

"Many biofuels compete with agricultural land and fresh water which results in
the price of food being pushed up," commented Professor Feargal Brennan, Head
of Cranfield University’s Department of Offshore, Process and Energy Engineering.
"This project and consortium will aim to see how algae could benefit the aviation

“It will look at ways to grow and harvest naturally occurring species of algae
in large volumes and to process these into fuel.   Algae grows naturally in sea
water and with over 70% of the surface of the earth being water, Cranfield’s Sea
Green project is a logical and potentially high yield solution.  Few replacement
options to kerosene for fuelling commercial aircraft have been identified but
jet fuel produced from algae produced in this way could be a major break-through."

Paul Nash, Head of New Energies at Airbus, said: "We see algae as one of the
most promising and sustainable solutions for commercial quantities of biofuels.  
 Industry initiatives like SURF demonstrate our commitment to reducing emissions."

Jonathon Counsell, Head of Environment at British Airways, said: "Sustainable
fuels will play a critical role in reducing the carbon footprint of global aviation
by 50% net by 2050, delivering substantially lower lifecycle emissions whilst
avoiding other environmental impacts."

In another partnership with Rolls-Royce, British Airways is in the process of
getting an alternative fuel engine test programme off the ground. Having previously
failed two years ago to obtain sufficient quantities of alternative jet fuels
from suppliers, the programme is now back on track, reported the engine manufacturer’s
Vice President Strategic Marketing, Robert Nuttall, at last week’s Aviation &
Environment Summit.

"We have re-energized the whole project as part of the FAA’s CLEEN programme
and we have had 30 to 40 responses," he told delegates. "We have gone from RFI
to RFP (request for proposal) and we are now actively engaged in a programme to
take the fuel beyond even where the ASTM certification process is currently.

British Airways is also involved in a project in East London with US biofuel company Solena Group that aims to produce jet fuel from municipal waste biomass that would otherwise
be destined for landfill (see story). The $280 million facility is expected to produce 16 million gallons of jet
fuel annually once the facility becomes operational, which is anticipated in 2014.



Cranfield University

Airbus – Alternative Fuels

British Airways – One Destination


Sea Green Life Cycle Assessment process chain: