Biofuels News

Below are links to stories about aviation biofuels.

Hopes of “sustainable jet fuel” from waste are always just around the corner, for British Airways

British Airways (not much to do at present ...) says it "will operate transatlantic flights partially powered by sustainable fuels as early as 2022".  BA says it will invest in a new US plant to be built in Georgia by LanzaJet producing commercial-scale volumes of "sustainable" aviation fuel (SAF), made from ethanol derived from agricultural and other waste.  It claims this would  "create 70% less carbon emissions than conventional jet fuel."  It will actually produce tiny amounts of fuel.  IAG says it will invest almost £300m in SAF as part of its pledge to decarbonise by 2050 (while increasing numbers of passengers and flights!), and would investigate building a refinery with LanzaTech in the UK. BA is also involved in a domestic- waste-to-fuel plant in partnership with Velocys, in Immingham, Humberside, that Shell pulled out of in January. Sean Doyle, of BA, said (they always want public funds to help produce alternative fuels for planes) “We need government support" for this. BA and LanzaTech are part of the Jet Zero Council, launched to some fanfare by Boris Johnson in July 2020; it has not met since then.

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Shell pulls out of UK joint venture with BA and Velocys to produce “low carbon” jetfuel

Shell has pulled out of the joint Altalto venture with British Airways and Velocys to build a plant in Immingham, Humberside to make "sustainable jet fuels from non-recyclable household waste.  There has been a lot of hype about novel fuels for aviation, and how they will help reduce the CO2 emissions from flights slightly - even while the sector stays the same size or grows.  Shell will instead join a more lucrative fuels project in Canada, which plans to produce fuel more efficiently (using a better source of waste - as they include wood "waste").  The Altalto projects hopes to be producing jet fuel within 5 years. The existence of the Humberside plant enabled Boris to claim Britain would be in the forefront of low carbon fuels etc (Britain always has to be on top ...) Producing standard, high quality jet fuel from highly variable domestic waste is difficult. Other projects have not been a success. In 2017 the fuel project in Essex by Solena, to produce fuel for British Airways, was scrapped as Solena went bankrupt (presumably before producing any fuel). While the Canadian scheme plans to use over 200,000 tonnes of non-recyclable and wood waste annually to produce nearly 125m litres of fuel, the UK Altalto project would use 500,000 tonnes of waste to make 60m litres.

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Committee on Climate Change – recommendations to government – lots on aviation carbon changes and policies needed

The Committee on Climate Change has published its guidance for the UK government on its Sixth Carbon Budget, for the period 2033 - 37, and how to reach net-zero by 2050.  There is a great deal of detail, many documents, many recommendations - with plenty on aviation. The intention is for UK aviation to be net-zero by 2050, though the CCC note there are not yet proper aviation policies by the UK government to achieve this. International aviation must be included in the Sixth Carbon budget. If the overall aviation CO2 emissions can be reduced enough, it might be possible to have 25% more air passengers in 2050 than in 2018. The amount of low-carbon fuels has been increased from the CCC's earlier maximum realistic estimates of 5-10%, up to perhaps 25% by 2050, with "just over two-thirds of this coming from biofuels and the remainder from carbon-neutral synthetic jet fuel ..." Residual CO2 emissions will need to be removed from the air, and international carbon offsets are not permitted. There is an assumption of 1.4% efficiency improvement per year, or at the most 2.1%. There "should be no net expansion of UK airport capacity unless the sector is on track to sufficiently outperform its net emissions trajectory."  The role of non-CO2 is recognised, but not included in carbon budgets; its heating effect must not increase after 2050.  And lots more ...

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Aviation points, mainly on future “Sustainable Aviation Fuels” from Boris’ 10-point plan for a “Green Industrial Revolution”

The Government has produced a new 10-point plan, "for a Green Industrial Revolution - Building back better, supporting green jobs, and accelerating our path to net zero." Much is aimed at creating new jobs in new sectors.  There is little about aviation, and nothing of much substance, except hopes for "sustainable aviation fuels" (SAF) for future use.  It says government will put £15m into FlyZero – a 12-month study, delivered through the Aerospace Technology Institute (ATI), into the strategic, technical and commercial issues in designing and developing zero-emission aircraft that could enter service in 2030. Also a £15m competition to support Sustainable Aviation Fuels production. They will establish a Sustainable Aviation Fuels clearing house to enable the UK to certify new fuels, driving innovation in this space. There will be a consultation in 2021 on a Sustainable Aviation Fuel mandate to blend "greener" fuels into kerosene, which will create a market-led demand for these alternative fuels.  The mandate would start in 2025. Government will invest in R&D for the infrastructure upgrades required at UK airports to move to battery and hydrogen aircraft. And there will be a consultation on an Aviation Decarbonisation Strategy in 2021.

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Jet Zero Council had its first meeting on 22nd July – to bring aviation emissions in line with UK 2050 net-zero target

The Jet Zero Council held its first meeting, online, on 22nd July. Tim Johnson, Director of the Aviation Environment Federation (AEF) is the only representative on the council, representing environmental issues. Government press release on the first meeting said: "Chaired by the Transport and Business Secretaries, today’s first ever Jet Zero council meeting will discuss how to decarbonise the aviation sector while supporting its growth and strengthening the UK’s position as a world leader in the sector."  And Grant Shapps said: "The Jet Zero Council is a huge step forward in making change – as we push forward with innovative technologies such as sustainable aviation fuels (SAF) and eventually fully electric planes, we will achieve guilt-free flying and boost sustainability for years to come." ... Producers of novel fuels are excited. ... They all want lots of government money.  Tim Johnson said: “It was a positive start, with an appropriate degree of ambition and urgency, a technology-neutral stance that will treat all options equally, and recognition that getting new technology and SAF into the fleet requires a regulatory framework that includes carbon pricing. That’s a good platform to work from.”

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Airbus – in dire financial problems – talks of plans for hydrogen fuelled future planes

Airbus has been publicising its hopes to have hydrogen-fuelled passenger planes in service within 20 years.  Apart from the technical problems of how to store liquid or compressed hydrogen on a plane, and how to transport it etc, there is the massive problem of the energy it would take to generate the vast amount of hydrogen that would be needed. Currently there is "blue" hydrogen, which is generated from fossil fuels, and the production of which emits carbon (unless and until there is CCS to store that CO2 underground) or "green" hydrogen, which would be produced using low carbon electricity, from wind farms etc. Currently there is almost no "green" hydrogen. There are claims that burning hydrogen at high altitude would not cause the emission of soot particles, so contrails might form less than conventional jet kerosene. It would certainly produce water vapour. The necessary atmospheric research studies probably have not been done, at scale. Hydrogen, like electric planes and wonderful zero carbon fuels, are the hopes of the sector - that their climate problem can be (improbably) solved. Meanwhile Airbus' CEO announced it is in danger of collapse, due to Covid, and it needs to cut 15,000 jobs, or more than 11% of the group’s workforce.

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Danish companies hope to make “sustainable” fuel, if they can get enough off-shore wind electricity

Copenhagen Airports, and several big companies in fuels for road, marine and air transport, have formed a partnership, to attempt to develop an industrial-scale production facility to produce allegedly "sustainable" fuels. They plan to produce fuels, including hydrogen, by using electricity, starting by 2023, for buses, trucks, maritime vessels, and planes.  The total electrolyser capacity would be 1.3 gigawatts, which would likely make it one of the world’s largest facilities of its kind. There are the usual claims of lower carbon emissions, and more jobs. To lower carbon emissions, it has to use renewably generated electricity, which would come from offshore wind power from off the island of Bornholm. There has to be enough of this electricity.  All low carbon fuels have cost much more than fossil fuel equivalents, and this would be the case for these fuels, unless there was very cheap surplus electricity reliably available. The project is promoting itself as a low-carbon way out of the Covid pandemic, creating new low-carbon jobs, and making Denmark a leader. The country has the goal of reducing CO2 emissions by 70% by 2030 compared to 1990.

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Natural England objects to proposed jet fuel from waste plant, backed by BA, Shell and Velocys

BA has been trying to get some jet fuel made from domestic waste that would otherwise go to landfill, so it can claim it is using "low carbon" fuels. There were plans for a plant in east London, by Solena, back in 2014 but that never got off the ground; Solena went bust in October 2015. Now BA and Shell and Velocys are hoping for a plant on an 80-acre site on Humberside, to convert waste that would go to landfill, into jet fuel. However, Natural England are worried it could harm local wildlife and have filed an objection. Velocys says the plant would turn household waste into 60 million litres of "low-carbon" jet fuel every year. The project is backed by £4.5m of investment from Shell and British Airways, alongside a £434,000 grant from the Department of Transport. In a letter dated 20 February 2020 Natural England said it objects to the development because trucks ferrying waste to the site could increase nitrogen oxide levels - which can cause serious health impacts for humans and wildlife. It is also concerned construction and waste from the site could disturb nearby habitats for rare birds.  It is now for North East Lincolnshire Council to decide whether to approve the scheme.

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Biofuels (including for aviation) to drive massive increase in palm and soy demand by 2030

A new report by Rainforest Foundation Norway looks at the impact of global biofuel policies on tropical deforestation. Palm oil and soy, in particular, are biofuel feedstocks that are associated with high deforestation risk. The report analyses biofuel policies in all key markets and assesses. It found the impact on demand for palm oil and soy-based biofuels in the coming decade will be huge, and may rise by over 60 million more tonnes of palm oil by 2030. That is about 90% of current global palm oil production. The demand for soy oil might rise by over 40 million tonnes, about 75% of current production. This would cause an estimated 7 million hectares of deforestation, including up to 3.6 million hectares of peat drainage. There would be tragic loss of biodiversity, including charismatic species like orang utans. The deforestation would cause over 11 billion tonnes of extra CO2 entering the atmosphere, by 2030 (more than China's annual CO2 emissions). The aviation industry is potentially the largest consumer of high deforestation risk biofuels, followed by Indonesia and Brazil. The world is in a dual ecological crisis of climate change and biodiversity loss.  This use of biofuels is NOT the answer, to either crisis.

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Aviation industry body (oxymoron) “Sustainable Aviation” hoping its new greenwash will persuade folk aviation growth is fine ….

The aviation industry is nervous of the growing awareness of the looming climate crisis and the need for personal responsibility for air travel CO2. So they are working to try to persuade the public that aviation is fine, and the the carbon emitted is really not a problem. They have it sorted. This is, of course, just greenwash. They are assuming the public is very stupid, or wilfully wanting to be deluded, to believe there will be no extra CO2 in the atmosphere, with 70% more flights. The aviation industry body calling itself (oxymoron!) "Sustainable Aviation" is trying to say UK aviation will be, quotes, "net carbon zero by 2050". The industry can certainly make some little changes in engines, flight paths, operations etc, to cut a bit of carbon. That is far outweighed by the growth in passengers and flights. They have crazy hopes for low carbon fuels, which themselves would cause huge environmental problems. The rest is offsets. All that means is carbon reductions being made elsewhere are bought by the aviation sector, and are effectively cancelled out by the growth in air travel.  It is not a solution. Aviation knows it. Greenpeace said: “This whole strategy is a flight of fancy. Carbon offsetting is simply an excuse to carry on with business as usual while shifting the responsibility to cut emissions to someone else, somewhere else, and some other time. It’s greenwash pure and simple and ministers should be wary of lending it any credibility.”

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