Aviation biofuels: which airlines are doing what, with whom?

News of airlines doing test flights using a proportion of biofuel seems to have gone a bit quiet this year.  Biofuels Digest has done a round up of what they know about which airlines are linked up with which fuel companies. It appears most of the trial flights used recycled cooking oil, which cannot be a significant component of jet fuel in future as there is just not enough of it.  And the realisation is dawning that biofuels compete with food crops for land, water and nutrients. Also it should be asked why aviation should be the recipient of scarce and precious supplies of the few biofuelsl that are genuinely sustainable, and do not have ILUC (indirect land use change) implications. 


Aviation biofuels: which airlines are doing what, with whom?

5.6.2012 (Biofuels Digest)

Azul Airlines announces plans to test Amyris sugarcane-based jet fuel; more than 30 airlines now trialing, deploying biofuels – but who’s doing what, exactly?

In Brazil, Azul Airlines announced that Amyris’s innovative renewable jet fuel sourced from Brazilian sugarcane has passed all required testing and will be used during a demonstration flight on an Azul Embraer 195 aircraft powered by GE’s CF34-10E engines. The “Azul+Verde” (a Greener Blue) flight will take place in Brazil on Tuesday, June 19th, during the Rio+20 United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development.

Amyris’s renewable jet fuel has been designed to be compliant with Jet A/A-1 fuel specifications and provide equivalent performance versus conventional petroleum-derived fuel in a range of metrics, including fit-for-purpose properties and greenhouse gas emission reduction potential. The feedstock for the renewable jet fuel is sugarcane, a highly desirable biomass that can be produced sustainably in large-scale quantities in Brazil and other tropical countries.

Azul is the third largest airline in Brazil, a low-cost carrier connecting 48 destinations, 47 cities, with over 400 daily flights, and a fleet of 54 aircraft including 42 jets (32 Embraer 195 and 10 Embraer 190s) and 12 turboprops (7 ATR 72-600 and 5 ATR 72-200). To date, Azul has served more than 19 million customers.

The bottom line

It’s a test, but an important one, because this is one of the first fuels supplied directly from an advanced fermentation company – Solazyme has been supplying renewable oils for aviation biofuels, but the upgrading has been done by Honeywell’s UOP.

Further, we’ll watch this one with interest, because it is the first biofuels test-flight to tap the vast potential of sugarcane as an aviation biofuels feedstock.


Airlines around the world

In today’s Digest, we look at the latest news from airlines around the world – who’s moving on biofuels, and when and how?


The Americas

United States

Last week, United Airlines, Boeing, Honeywell’s UOP, the Chicago Department of Aviation and the Clean Energy Trust announced the formation of the Midwest Aviation Sustainable Biofuels Initiative (MASBI), designed to advance aviation biofuel development in a 12-state region holding significant promise for biomass feedstock, technology development, job creation and sustainable commercialization.

Last December, American Airlines said that it expects to begin its first biofuel flights in mid-2012 using a Boeing ecoDemonstrator airplane to complete the flight. Around the same time as the Chapter 11 filing, the company signed agreements with two biojet suppliers as well as a purchase agreement. The airline announced its MOUs for biofuels supply at the CAAFI meeting in DC last week.

In February, Alaska Airlines said its decision to use 20% biofuel during its 75-flight biofuel commercialization program was limited to 20% because of lack of supply. With the fuel produced in Louisiana from used cooking oil, refined in Texas and sourced by a broker the Netherlands, the supply chain was very difficult. Beyond that, it cost $17 per gallon compared to $3.14 per gallon for A1 jet fuel.


In April, Porter Airlines successfully conducted the first biofuel-powered revenue flight in Canada. In the successful conclusion to a test program that was launched in 2010, the airline flew one of its Bombardier Q400 turboprops from its base at Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport to Ottawa using a 50/50 blend of biofuel and Jet A1 fuel in one of its engines.
This is the final step in a two-year project whose key members besides Porter included Targeted Growth, Bombardier Aerospace, and Pratt and Whitney Canada, the manufacturer of the PW150A engines that power the Q400 aircraft.


In May 2010, ten organizations partnered to form the Brazilian Alliance for Aviation Biofuels (Aliança Brasileira para Biocombustíveis de Aviação – ABRABA) this week at a meeting in Sao Paulo. Founding members include: Algae Biotechnology, Amyris Brazil, the Brazilian Association of Jatropha Producers, the Brazilian Aerospace Industry Association (AIAB), Azul Brazilian Airlines, Embraer, GOL Airlines, TAM Airlines, TRIP Airlines, and the Brazilian Sugarcane Industry Association (UNICA).

The objective of the alliance is to promote public and private initiatives that seek to develop and certify sustainable biofuels for aviation. The goal will be achieved through dialogues with those who form public policies, as well as opinion makers, in order to obtain biofuels that are just as safe and cost efficient as petroleum derivatives.


In March, Netherlands-based SkyNRG supplied LAN Chile and Air BP Copec for its first commercial flight with second generation jet fuel. The flight, which operated between the Chilean cities of Santiago and Concepcion, was conducted on an Airbus from the A320 family with CFM56-5B motors.  The fuel came from used cooking oil.
The flight ended with an event held in the city of Concepcion, which was attended by Government and local authorities, and also by LAN and Air BP Copec executives.


Last September, Aeromexico began using a 25 percent biofuel mixture on its flights from Mexico City to San Jose, Costa Rica. As part of the “Green Flights” project designed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, a Boeing 737 will now fly the route using a mixture of 75% conventional jet fuel and 25% synthetic paraffin biokerosene.
Aeromexico carried out its first transoceanic commercial flight using biofuels last month on the Mexico City-Madrid route.


Europe, Middle East and Africa


Last December, Algae.Tec announced that Algae.Tec Ltd and the major European airline Lufthansa have signed a Memorandum of Understanding to jointly evaluate the potential for algae oil from Algae.Tec’s bio-reactors to be developed into a sustainable source of aviation biofuels.

In January, Lufthansa had announced that its flight trial from Frankfurt to Washington on Jan. 12 would be its last using renewable jet fuel because it hasn’t been able to secure long-term sources of the biofuel. In all, 1,187 biofuel flights were operated between Hamburg and Frankfurt. According to initial calculations, CO2 emissions were reduced by 1,471 tonnes. Total consumption of the biokerosene mix amounted to 1,556 tonnes. Overall,  Neste and Lufthansa  found that the aircraft and their engines performed excellently. The condition of the combustion chambers, turbines, and fuel systems of their engines was exemplary both during and at the conclusion of the trial. Usage of NExBTL fuel resulted in 1% lower fuel consumption compared to regular fossil jet fuel.


In France, Air France completed its first biofuel-powered scheduled passenger flight, running on a 50/50 combination of traditional jet fuel and jet fuel produced from used cooking oil. Together with “optimised” air traffic management (ATM), the flight saved roughly 50% of its CO2 emissions, bringing the per passenger emissions rate down to 54g per kilometer. [No details of how they calculated this].


Last October, Virgin Atlantic said that it has teamed with LanzaTech to create renewable jet fuel that will power planes Shanghai and Delhi to Heathrow within two to three years. LanzaTech is working on producing its fuel in India and China, making those two destinations easy targets for implementation of the ‘green fleet.’  A flight demo with the new fuel is planned in the next 18 months, and the project will also include Boeing during the trial phases.

Within two to three years Virgin Atlantic plans flights with the new fuel on its routes from Shanghai and Delhi to London Heathrow as LanzaTech and partners develop facilities in China and India. The technology is currently being piloted in New Zealand, a larger demonstration facility will be commissioned in Shanghai this year, and the first commercial operation will be in place in China by 2014. Following successful implementation, a wider roll-out could include operations in the UK and the rest of the world.

Last October, Thomson Airways said it would fly passengers from Birmingham to Arrecife, on the Spanish Canary island of Lanzarote, using a combination of used cooking oil and regular jet fuel. The airline had originally hoped to start its biofuel flights last July, but experienced delays with testing and safety clearances. It claims that the use of biofuels could reduce the aviation industry’s carbon dioxide emissions by up to 80 percent, and plans to use biofuels across its entire fleet within three years.

At the 2011 Paris Air Show, major European stakeholders set a goal of 600 million gallons (2 million metric tons) of annual sustainable biojet production by 2020 under a new program called Biofuel Flightpath. For Flightpath, the European Commission has teamed with Airbus, Lufthansa, Air France/KLM, British Airways and biofuel producers Choren Industries, Neste Oil, Biomass Technology Group and UOP.


Last October national airline Iberia flew the country’s first commercial flight using a 25% blend of biojet fuel made from camelina. The inaugural flight using an Airbus A320 flew from Madrid to Barcelona. The fuel was produced by UOP LLC, a unit of U.S.-based Honeywell International Inc. and certified by the oil company Repsol YPF SA.


Last July, Finnair announced plans to operate flights powered by biofuel. The airline operated an Airbus biofuel flight between Amsterdam Schiphol and Helsinki in the week of July 18th, running on a 50% blend of biofuel produced from recycled vegetable oil and kerosene, and was refuelled at Amsterdam Schiphol airport. The biofuel was provided by SkyNRG, a consortium launched by KLM, North Sea Group and Spring Associates to develop a sustainable supply chain for aviation biofuel.


Last June, KLM Royal Dutch Airlines became the first airline in the world to operate a commercial flight carrying 171 passengers on aviation biofuels. Flight KL1233 – a Boeing 737-800 – took off from Schiphol bound for Charles de Gaulle in Paris carrying 171 passengers. KLM’s first commercial flight to Paris was operated on biokerosene produced from used cooking oil. This same raw material will be used in the flights scheduled for September. The fuel was supplied by Dynamic Fuels via SkyNRG, the consortium co-founded by KLM in 2009 with the North Sea Group and Spring Associates.


In January, Qatar Airways was reported to be investing in the California firm Byogy Renewables, according to Bloomberg.  Chris Schroeder, a senior manager with QA was quoted as saying, “We’re looking to underwrite an investment into Byogy of up to 10 percent, coupled with an off-take agreement… This will enable the company to go into the market and look for further equity investment or other partners.”  Financial details were not given.

The Emirates

In the United Arab Emirates, Etihad’s delivery acceptance of a new Boeing 777-300ER, flown from Seattle to Abu Dhabi was completed using biofuel – the first such flight to be conducted in the Persian Gulf.  The biofuel was supplied by Holland’s SkyNRG, sourced from recycled vegetable cooking oil.

South Africa

Last November, South African Airlines noted that it may have to use as much as 50% biofuels in its fuel supply by 2020 in order to avoid carbon penalties, which could in turn be the stimulus needed to create a thriving biofuels industry in South Africa and the region. Currently South Africa limits biofuel feedstocks to sorghum, sugar cane, sugar beet and jatropha.




Last year, the China Air Transport Association stated that they oppose having their flights into Europe included in the European Union’s Emissions Trading Scheme.  The ETS requires that all emitters to buy permits for each tonne of CO2 released, above a certain cap.


In April, Boeing and All Nippon Airways reported that a 787 Dreamliner flew for the first time powered in part by sustainable biofuels.  This was a delivery flight between Boeing’s Delivery Center in Everett, Washington and Tokyo Haneda Airport is also the first ever transpacific biofuel flight, using biofuel made mainly from used cooking oil and emitted an estimated 30% less CO2 emissions when compared to today’s similarly-sized airplanes.

Back in 2009, Japan Air Lines tested camelina, jatropha and algae-based biofuels in a 747-300 test slight from Tokyo’s Haneda airport, but we haven’t heard much from JAL on biofuels since then. The fuel was processed by UOP, and used in a no-passenger test flight using Pratt & Whitney JT9D engines, and used a mixture of 84% camelina, nearly 16% jatropha, and less than 1% algae. The biodiesel was mixed in a B50 blend with conventional jet fuel.


From Twitter: Singapore Airlines looks to biofuels as it becomes latest airline to join Sustainable Aviation Fuel Users Group


In March, Thai Airways International launched a workshop jointly with the Ministry of Energy and PTT Public Company to focus on aviation biofuels, as a first step in the country’s effort to develop this sector.

Last year, Thai Airways announced plans to power a commercial passenger flight using only biofuel. Commercial flights were planned to begin on December 22 for the Bangkok to Chiang Mai route.The biofuel-powered flight supports the company’s Travel Green initiative as part of its Corporate Social Responsibility activities. The first flight on December 21 will use a Boeing 777-200 plane.


In March, Indian Oil announced that it is working with AirbusKingfisher Airlineand UOP to conduct biofuel test flights.  Indian Oil, a state run corporation has signed pacts with Canadian universities and Pratt & Whitney to further their ambitions to join the growing group of countries pursuing bio-avjet.


Back in 2010, Garuda Indonesia exec Wendy Aritonang confirmed to the Jakarta Globe that “We are in the process of changing from [aviation fuel] to biofuel. Not a single [domestic] airline has done it yet. We will be implementing this plan in stages and it will not necessarily be achieved within this year.” The airline signed an MOU in February with the International Air Transport Association, committing to improving air travel services as well as to using biofuel.

We haven’t heard any advancement of the Garuda plans since then.


In April, Qantas launched Australia’s first commercial biofuels flight from Sydney to Adelaide using a 50/50 blend of cooking-oil derived jet fuel.

Qantas is operating under the AUS$500,000 Emerging Renewables Program grant, which enables Qantas to partner with Shell Australia for a feasibility study of long-term aviation biofuels. Other airlines in the country such as Virgin Australia are also working on aviation biofuels programs.

New Zealand

Last December, Air New Zealand announced that it has signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with Licella Pty Ltd to examine the development and commercialisation of a process to convert woody biomass into sustainable biofuel in New Zealand. Under the MOU Air New Zealand and Licella will jointly explore the potential of the technology to produce sustainable aviation biofuel in New Zealand.





USDA Partners with GE Aviation for Biojet Fuel

3.7.2012 (The BioEnergy site)

US – The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) has joined forces with jet engine producer General Electric (GE) Aviation, in addition to the Ohio Aerospace Institute, air carriers and producer groups, to produce renewable jet fuel from agricultural products.

The biojet will be provided at GE Aviation’s Cincinnati, Ohio-based facilities and GE Aviation plans to buy around five million gallons of the biojet, starting in 2015.

“We have an incredible opportunity to create thousands of new jobs and drive economic development in rural communities across America by developing innovative ways to use agricultural products to help reduce our reliance on foreign oil,” said Secretary Vilsack.

“USDA’s collaboration with General Electric Aviation will bring together multiple sectors of Ohio’s economy, including agricultural producers, to foster new innovations in the field of renewable fuels while bolstering new economic opportunities in the Midwest. USDA is proud to work alongside private and public institutions to support the research, creation and distribution of next generation energy solutions.”

USDA recently awarded a Value Added Producer Grant to the Ohio Soybean Council to help initiate a pilot project through Ohio State University’s Bioproducts Innovation Center to refine bio-jet fuel from soybean oil produced by farmer-owners of Ohio’s Mercer Landmark cooperative in western Ohio.

Renewable-jet fuel produced from various plant oils (e.g. camelina, pennycress, inedible corn oil, algae) has been certified by the American Society of Testing and Materials for aviation use, and is currently being used in limited commercial service. Such a pilot project could provide the basis for commercialising renewable-jet fuel production for future aviation purchases.




Solena partnership with BA to produce jet fuel from London municipal waste – delayed over 2 years?

Date added: September 10, 2012

In 2010 it was announced that Solena and BA would build a plant to produce jet fuel in London. Solena hoped the new aviation fuel would be produced from several types of waste materials destined for landfill. The airline said it plans to use the low-carbon fuel to power part of its fleet beginning in 2014. In 2010 they said the self-contained plant will likely be built in east London. It’s expected to convert 551,000 tons of waste into 16 million gallons of green jet fuel each year. However, the timetable has slipped. Little news can be found about it, and there is no planning application yet. IOne website said the project will start in 2nd quarter of 2014 and end 2nd quarter 2016. March Oxford Catalysts were selected to supply the modular Fischer-Tropsch technology . There has been no planning application yet at Rainham Marshes. The timetable seems to have slipped by at least 27 months.   Click here to view full story…



Aviation industry presses for biofuels support

Published 10 July 2012, updated  22 August 2012 ( Euractiv )

SPECIAL REPORT / Under pressure to cut carbon emissions, the aviation industry is urging policymakers to support the development of biofuels for aircraft in the same way they have done for road transport. EurActiv reports from the Farnborough Airshow.

Biofuels were cleared for aviation use in June 2011 so long as they are blended with traditional jet fuel, and their use remains a novelty due to limited supply and high cost.

Industry officials are urging governments to help lift supplies, much as policies in the EU and United States have created a flourishing market in plant-based oils for cars and lorries. The industry contends that sustainable fuels – when combined with aerodynamic design, efficient engines and improved air traffic handling – will reduce emissions even as passenger traffic grows.

Tony Tyler, director-general of the International Air Transport Association, says the oil derived from plants could reduce the industry’s carbon footprint by up to 80% in the decades ahead.

“They have already powered more than 1,500 commercial flights,” he told the trade group’s recent annual meeting in Beijing. “But to increase utilisation, costs need to come down and the supply needs to increase. That will only happen with government policies to de-risk investment, including setting global standards.”

The Air Transport Action Group, or ATAG, reports that biofuels are expected to account for less than 1% of the industry’s fuel supplies this year, rising to 30% by 2030 and 50% a decade later. The Geneva-based industry organisation, which promotes environmental sustainability, has urged governments to support research, plant development and refining capacity to achieve those targets.

Policies turned upside down

Others in the industry say government policies such as those in the European Union that support biofuels on the ground may be turned upside down.

Alan H. Epstein, vice president for technology and the environment at aircraft engine-maker Pratt & Whitney, says when it comes to curtailing emissions, it makes better sense to have more electric cars and lorries than vehicles burning plant oil.

“The fundamental point is airplanes don’t have an option,” Epstein told EurActiv in an interview in Brussels.

“As Europe becomes greener for power generation, it makes more sense to think about electrification [for transportation],” he said. “In Europe, the automobile trips are shorter, the cars are smaller, so electrification may make even more sense than it does larger parts of North America.”

The industry is so convinced of the merits of biofuels that it used the recent sustainable development conference in Rio de Janeiro to stage a media event. Raymond Benjamin, who heads the International Civil Aviation Organisation, landed in the Brazilian city on 19 June after having flown from his base in Montréal on airliners using biofuels.

“I am proud to have been able to serve as a symbolic passenger on this ‘Flightpath to a Sustainable Future’,” Benjamin said, adding that bio-fuelled aircraft “are one of the many steps aviation is now taking in that direction.”

A not so soft landing

But not everyone agrees that Benjamin’s flight was sustainable or even a model for the future.

The United Nations Environment Programme warned in a recent report that even though burning plant-based fuels can produce significantly lower levels of carbon emissions, production and land clearing to make way for new crops “may reduce carbon-savings or even lead to an increase.”

Bill Hemmings, who monitors aviation policy in Brussels for the green NGO Transport and Environment, agrees.

Hemmings believes the aviation industry could be falling into the same trap as ground transportation in believing that biofuels are easy on the planet. Greenhouse gases emitted during production, he said, added to concerns over the impact of clearing land and tapping water and other resources needed to sustain fuel plants – especially in developing and emerging nations – may eventually make biofuels more pernicious than traditional fuels.

Such concerns about both direct and indirect impacts from plant cultivation have led Transport and Environment and other environmentalists to press the European Commission to rethink its mandate for 10% biofuel use in ground transport by 2020.

“This huge industry is being built, not on a house of cards, but without a solid foundation and that foundation will shift seismically if indirect land-use change is properly addressed,” Hemmings said in an interview. “So why go and build another aviation mountain which is going to have the foundation shaken once this is sorted out.”

He also disagrees with Tyler and others calling for more government support of biofuels in aviation, noting that the industry already gets big subsidies – such as tax exemptions for aviation fuels – that could fund development of alternatives fuels.

Magda Stoczkiewicz, director of Friends of the Earth Europe, is also wary of the aviation industry’s call for public support of biofuels when the full impact of production, refining and delivery has not been weighed.

“Our position is that for the moment, we don’t see how the big amounts of biofuels needed for aviation can be produced sustainably,” Stoczkiewicz told EurActiv.

Under pressure

Still, aviation officials say they have to do something, both to meet passenger demand and reduce carbon emissions in an industry that accounts for the biggest growth in greenhouse gases. They say the price for that shift is high – today’s aviation biofuels cost as much as 10 times more than conventional fuels.

Despite the current economic situation, air traffic is expected to double or even triple by 2020 worldwide. The EU wants to cut both carbon dioxide emissions – through itscontroversial Emissions Trading System – as well as improvements in air traffic management. Globally, international airline associations, airports, navigation service providers and manufacturers have agreed to improve fuel efficiency by an average of 1.5% per year and halve emissions by 2050 from 2005 levels.

Concerns about energy supply and price vulnerability are other motivators – for instance, the 2011 revolution in Libya sent oil prices soaring despite weakened global demand. An EU-US-backed oil embargo on Iran also could disrupt supplies.

Airlines are already taking steps to cut weight and improve efficiency. Each generation of aircraft being produced by leading manufacturers like Airbus and Boeing are more aerodynamic, lighter and more durable. On the ground, efforts to cut taxi time and delays at the gate save fuel and reduce emissions.

Meanwhile, industry figures show that new engine technology that is just coming onto the market is 16% more efficient than those in use today.

But Hemmings says all this is expensive and by calling for more attention to aviation biofuels, the industry is buying time.

“Everyone is led to believe that there is a tonne of biofuels that will save the world just around the corner, and why go to all this dreadful trouble of [having] to do something else like emissions trading and produce more fuel-efficient aircraft,” he said.

“So a lot of it seems to be about that, and that gets up my nose, it’s fair enough to say.”


More efficient engines, aircraft and air traffic management can lower aviation fuel consumption and reduce carbon emissions, Randy TinsethBoeing’svice president for marketing, said in Brussels on 6 July. But over the long run, “We have to have biofuels to achieve reductions.”

Following a pan-American flight using a streamlined air traffic management system and on board aircraft partly powered by biofuels, Airbus President Frabrice Brégier said: “To make this a day-to-day commercial reality, it requires now a political will to foster incentives to scale up the use of sustainable biofuels and accelerate modernisation of the air-traffic control management system. We need a clear endorsement by governments and all aviation stakeholders to venture beyond today’s limitations.”

Timothy Spence

European Union

International organisations

Industry and trade associations

Business and industry