Aviation biofuel hype in the Guardian – by a lobbyist for agribusiness and biofuel

Ben Caldecott, who is – surprisingly and depressingly – a trustee of the Green Alliance, has written in the Guardian of his support for biofuels as the future for aviation.  This appears to be a re-hash of an article he did almost three years ago, and does not appear to take on board the serious reservations there are now about the environmental, climate and social impacts of biofuels. He proposes that air travel will need to expand for business and pleasure, and biofuels will solve the aviation industry’s problem. He says, without ever mentioning which biofuel he is considering, and where they will come from, that key airports like Heathrow,  Dubai, New York and Hong Kong will need to be using fuel contining an increasing amount of biofuel. It turns out that he works for an organisation that has just been taken over by a big agribusiness and biofuels company.  And the Committee on Climate Change expects at the most 10% aviation biofuel by 2050.



Ben Caldecott http://www.guardian.co.uk/profile/bencaldecott

works with Climate Change Capital (a commercial organisation) that has just been taken over by a large agribusiness company. Hence his unjustified enthusiasm for biofuelled air travel. http://www.climatechangecapital.com/private-equity.aspx

and The Smith School in Oxford http://www.smithschool.ox.ac.uk/
as well as being a Trustee of the Green Alliance http://www.green-alliance.org.uk/home/





“Only biofuels will cut plane emissions”

We need something that can deliver emission reductions from existing fleets of planes – and the solution already exists

by Ben Caldecott

Guardian 16.5.2012

As a small, maritime trading nation Britain has always been some distance from big international markets. Our ability to visit far-off places and people, and their access to us, has always been at the heart of our ability to punch above our weight in the world, whether that’s commercially, culturally or diplomatically.

In the past we were dependent on ships, now we are reliant on commercial airlines, as well as the Channel Tunnel and secure data networks. This infrastructure is critical for our future, particularly as we look to major economies like India, China and Brazil for export opportunities. But it is also vital for sustaining our outward facing society and culture; one that’s confident engaging with the world and welcoming of its diversity.

Rail and video-conferencing will help, but air travel will remain absolutely essential and more people are going to fly, especially to and from a networked, diverse, outward-facing island nation like our own.

We should embrace this, but we must also recognise that flying more will also have negative consequences, in particular greenhouse gas emissions. The positive progress on including aviation in Europe’s carbon trading scheme this week is welcome, but neither that nor more efficient aircraft will deal with the industry’s climate problem. As I will argue, only biofuels can do that. Aviation currently accounts for a relatively small proportion of global carbon emissions: 6% of UK, 4% of European Union and 2% of world. This will change fast though, with global aviation expected to grow at 5% a year for at least the next 15 years. If so, by 2050 aviation emissions will account for up to 20% of global emissions, making tackling global warming significantly harder.

Though new airport capacity in the UK is essential, plans for it must convincingly address this important pollution challenge.

Including aviation in the Europe’s Emissions Trading Scheme is a step in the right direction, but at current carbon prices it will not spur the innovations needed to cut pollution. Some say the aviation sector has a good track record of improving the fuel efficiency of new aircraft, achieving an average annual improvement of about 1.5%. But these emissions savings will be completely overwhelmed by growing global demand for aviation.

So we desperately need something that can deliver a step-change in emission reductions from existing fleets, particularly as planes built today will be in service for many years to come. The only option is to replace existing jet fuel (kerosene) with an alternative that can deliver deep emission reductions and be used to current aircraft. Fortunately, this technology exists: sustainable bio jet fuels. Made from advanced feedstocks and able to provide significant life-cycle emission reductions and meet other stringent sustainability standards, these fuels can be produced today and have already received certification for use in commercial jet aircraft. They can also be produced now at costs not far above the high and volatile price of jet fuel, with Bloomberg predicting that they could potentially reach price parity with kerosene in 2016.

There is an opportunity for the UK to align its need to develop new airport capacity with the development of sustainable bio jet fuels at scale. We should work to ensure that any new airport provide airlines with the best biofuels available.

Airport operators should have to provide airlines with a blend of jet fuel that has a significant and rising proportion of sustainable bio jet fuel. This would significantly reduce emissions from flights. The mandate should start at an achievable level, say where the blend would have to be 15% less polluting than jet fuel today based on the strictest sustainability standards. It could then ratchet up to reach a point where the blend was 60% less polluting within a reasonable time-frame.

Airlines would benefit from a genuine and cost-effective emission reduction strategy, which might even attract environmentally conscious flyers. Not many hubs would need to follow the UK before the majority of international flights used sustainable bio jet fuel blends, perhaps only New York, Dubai, Hong Kong and Singapore need change, in addition to London.

An ambitious blending mandate would send exactly the signal required to accelerate the development of sustainable bio jet fuels. Airport operators would be required to demonstrate they had a plan to meet the incoming mandate and would sign supply contracts with developers, which would spur innovation and investment. The UK government could also ensure that our leading biotech, aviation and university sectors work in unison to create solutions, through targeted research programmes and tax relief for collaborative work.

The luddite wing of the environmental movement (see below)  will think such proposals sacrilegious – their only solution is to stop flying. But the reality is that there will be and should be more international travel, particularly to and from the UK. The challenge is to make this as least polluting as is possible, while also minimising local airport impacts. By aligning the debate about airport capacity sensibly with environmental objectives, we can make a significant dent in aviation emissions globally as well as guarantee sufficient airport capacity to keep UK plc open for both business and pleasure.


• Ben Caldecott is head of policy at Climate Change Capital and co-author of ‘Green Skies Thinking: Promoting the development and commercialisation of sustainable bio-jet fuels






There are a lot of comments under the article, at the address above.

Many sensible.

Here is one of them

“Bunge Limited (“Bunge”), a leading global agribusiness and food company, and Climate Change Capital Limited (“CCC”), a U.K.-regulated sustainable asset manager and advisor, today announced that Bunge has completed its previously announced acquisition of 100% of Climate Change Capital Group Limited (“CCCG”), the parent company of CCC.”


“Headquartered in London, Bunge’s sugar trading and marketing arm sources sugar and ethanol through our origination network in Brazil, Thailand and other geographies and markets it to customers around the world.”

“Bunge also produces oilseed-based biodiesel at joint venture facilities in the Americas and Europe, and has investments in a small number of corn ethanol plants in the United States.”




 Comments from Airport Watchmembers:

Ben Caldecott did a report on aviation and biofuels, making just this argument, in 2009 while at Policy Exchange,where he used to work: http://www.policyexchange.org.uk/images/publications/green%20skies%20thinking%20-%20jul%2009.pdf


Contrary to what Ben says, it was not only the “luddite wing of the environmental movement” who disagreed however. The Government’s climate advisers, the Committee on Climate Change, privately (personal converstion) described the report as barmy and recently published advice on biomass which argued that the most efficient use for biomass fuels is in buildings, followed by static installations with CCS, allowing the double benefit of CO2 being captured afterwards and stored. Putting it in planes came a long way down the list in terms of sensible uses. Given likely constraints on availability once sustainability criteria are applied, it seems very unlikely that much of it will make its way into aircraft engines.






Meeting the UK aviation target – options for reducing emissions to 2050


Committee on Climate Change  – December 2009




Use of biofuels in aviation


Concerns about land availability and sustainability mean that it is not prudent to assume that biofuels in 2050 could account for more than 10% of global aviation fuel:


–  It is likely that use of aviation biofuels will be both technically feasible and economically viable.


–  However, there will be other sectors which will compete with aviation for scarce biomass feedstock (e.g. road transport sector for use in HGVs, household sector biomass for cooking and heating, power generation for co-firing with CCS technology).


– And it is very unclear whether sufficient land and water will be available for growth of biofuels feedstocks given the need to grow food for a global population projected to increase from the current 6.7 billion to around 9.1 billion in 2050.


– Biofuel technologies that would not require agricultural land for growth of feedstocks (e.g. biofuels from algae, or biofuels grown with water from low-carbon desalination) may develop to change this picture but must be considered speculative today.


–  Given these concerns, it is not prudent today to plan for high levels of biofuels penetration. We have assumed 10% penetration in our Likely scenario




Page 21

Reflecting these considerations, our scenarios for biofuels penetration in aviation in 2050 range from 10% (Likely) to 30% (Speculative). Given uncertainty about whether the higher figures are compatible with sustainability, it is not prudent to base current policy on the assumption of a penetration rate above 10%. It is possible that over time more optimistic assumptions may become justified but these should only be used as a base for policy if and when there is clear evidence that all sustainability concerns have been addressed.




the concluding paragraph of  “Review of the potential for biofuels in aviation”

Final report For CCC   August 2009


In the more likely scenarios where conventional crops are not used, 10% of jet is not reached until 2026 even in the highest scenario (High BTL, new crops only, SH scenario). In the other scenarios, this is pushed out as far as 2035. This is limited by the availability of new oil crops, and the BTL plant build rate. The speed at which new oil crops will become available for HRJ production depends both on their successful development (breeding, agronomy etc), and on the rate of uptake by farmers and agro-industry, who must adapt to new practices and markets. In addition to this, there was relatively poor availability of data on new oil crop status and potential, and so this could be better assessed with further work or further information put into the public domain. Another key uncertainty is the availability of the new oils produced for HRJ production: we have assumed that only half of new crop production is available for plants producing HRJ, with the rest being used for plants only producing HVO or other uses. Considerably more detailed analysis of vegetable oil markets would be needed to assess how much production would be driven by HRJ demand alone.

For comparison, current biofuels production for road transport is around 1.6EJ

163, which is equivalent to 17% of current jet demand, or 13% of 2020 jet demand.