Biofuels & novel fuels News
Below are links to stories about aviation biofuels.
Climate charity Possible and law firm Leigh Day have made formal complaints to Virgin Atlantic and BA, over false sustainability claims
Virgin Atlantic and British Airways are facing formal complaints over their sustainable flight claims, after being accused of misleading potential customers about the environmental credentials of aviation and so-called "sustainable aviation fuels" SAF. Virgin Atlantic flew a plane, as a commercial PR stunt, powered by allegedly low carbon fuel, consisting largely of "used" cooking oil. This was partly funded by the UK government. Now the climate charity Possible and the law firm Leigh Day have filed formal complaints against the airlines, over their claims about reducing emissions from flights by use of SAF in future. There cannot ever be enough genuinely low carbon fuels, that do not cause other environmental harms, for more than a few flights. The airlines are misleading consumers over their claims on reducing carbon emissions from flights, as lay-people do not have the expertise to discern the limits of decarbonisation technology. There are unsupported claims that some SAF can give up to 70% carbon savings. But when burned in a jet engine, SAF produces almost the same CO2 emissions as kerosene, which then stays in the atmosphere. It also produces contrails and other non-CO2 effects.
Virgin “SAF” flight – it’s just unrealistic aviation hype to delay real emissions cuts
There is to be a transatlantic flight by Virgin Atlantic, which is claimed to be fuelled 100% by so called "sustainable" aviation fuels (SAF). It is a publicity stunt, to attempt to persuade government, and the flying public, that in future flying can be low carbon - allegedly "guilt free". But there is never going to be enough genuinely low-carbon fuel for more than a tiny % of flights. Jet fuels produced by taking agricultural land are recognised as not acceptable. The only fuels that might justify the term "sustainable", e-fuels, would have to be made from hydrogen, produced from surplus renewably generated electricity, combined with CO2 captured from the air, processed using renewably generated electricity. When the fuel is burned in a jet engine, it produces CO2 in just the same way as kerosene. A huge amount of low carbon electricity would be needed to produce e-fuels, and that would far more effectively be used for terrestrial demand - heating, vehicles etc. The industry claims SAF can reduce the emission of CO2 overall by (up to) 70% compared to kerosene, depending on the fuel and several variables. There is a real danger that the SAF hype being promoted by airlines and governments will reduce pressure for a reduction in flying, which is the only real way to cut aviation CO2. Read the new report by AEF, "Sustainable Aviation Fuels - Hope or Hype?"
Gimmick trans-Atlantic flight by Virgin, using used cooking oil + oil derived from corn
Next week, Virgin Atlantic will operate the first transatlantic flight on a large aircraft using what is calls 100% “sustainable aviation fuel” (SAF). The fuel to be used is derived from used cooking oil and oil from corn (maize). “The huge elephant in the room of all these biofuels is there simply is not the volume of feedstock available to go anywhere near the amount of fuel that is currently being burned in the world’s airliners,” said Guy Gratton, associate professor of aviation and environment at Cranfield University. Matt Finch, UK policy lead at the think-tank Transport & Environment, said there are problems with using used cooking oil to produce SAF as the feedstock has a limited supply and is already used regularly by the automotive industry to produce biodiesel. The corn-based fuel being used in the flight is what is known as a “first generation biofuel”, which is effectively banned from production in the UK and EU, due to the adverse environmental impact of growing food to be used as fuel. It just drives deforestation. Cait Hewitt, policy director at the Aviation Environment Federation, added: “This is basically a showpiece flight isn’t it? Rather than anything that could be seriously replicated in terms of day to day commercial operation of aviation.”
First commercial flight by Indonesian airline, Garuda, using palm oil
Indonesian airline, Garuda, has flown its first commercial flight using palm oil-blended jet fuel. The 737-800NG aircraft flew from the capital Jakarta to Surakarta city, about 550 kilometres (340 miles) away. Garuda conducted several tests including a flight test on the new fuel earlier this month and an engine ground test in August. The palm-oil blended jet fuel is produced by Indonesian state energy firm PT Pertamina at its Cilacap refinery, using hydroprocessed esters and fatty acid (HEFA) technology and is made of refined bleached deodorized palm kernel oil. Countries that grow palm oil (usually having caused deforestation and loss of valuable wildlife habitat) want it used in jet fuel, as well as in a vast number of foods and household products. The airline industry is desperate for people to believe that so-called "sustainable aviation fuels (SAF)" can be produced and make flying "low carbon". Using palm oil in jet fuel certainly will not do that, if the whole lifecycle of the product is considered. The European Union has imposed import restrictions on the palm oil in jet fuel, due to the worsening deforestation problem. Indonesia has mandated 3% biofuel blending by 2020 for jet fuel, but implementation has been delayed.
Grayling leads amendment to energy bill, to get more government funding for SAF
Rishi Sunak is under pressure from over 60 Tory MPs ito subsidise manufacturers of low-carbon aviation fuel in the UK to help the industry [allegedly] cut emissions. The MPs have signed an amendment to the government’s energy bill calling on ministers to introduce financial support to create a UK industry producing so-called "sustainable aviation fuels" (SAFs). The only possible hope the aviation industry has to cut its CO2 emissions in future, while growing as much as possible, is finding magical fuels that are considered low carbon. (Large hydrogen fuelled planes, or electric planes, are not realistic for decades, if ever). The amendment to the energy bill, tabled by former Conservative transport secretary Chris Grayling, calls on the government to step in to create a “price stability mechanism” to incentivise fuel companies to produce more SAFs. That is just what the sector wants. A subsidy from the public purse, for more flying. The government has pledged £165mn to encourage manufacturers to open at least five plants producing SAF, that they hope will start to be built by 2025. The extra subsidy would be even more.
‘Pigs do fly’: Growing use of animal fats in cars and planes increasingly unsustainable
Europe’s growing use of animal fats to power its cars and planes is becoming increasingly unsustainable, a new study on behalf of Transport & Environment (T&E) shows. They are asking for greater transparency on use of animal fats, so that consumers know what is going into their vehicle tanks and fuelling their flights. Use of animal fat biodiesel has doubled in the past decade and is 40 times higher than it was in 2006. European lawmakers have been promoting the by-product of industrial meat farming as a way of attempting to reduce the carbon impact of transport fuels.They are now setting their sights on planes – and to a lesser extent ships. However, there is not enough to go around. Nearly half of all European animal fats already go into biodiesel, despite being used extensively in the pet food, soaps and cosmetics industries. That can’t be sustained without depriving other sectors, which will in turn likely switch to damaging alternatives like palm oil. Only category 1 and 2 animal fats are too contaminated to even be used for animal food or soap etc, so can be used for fuel. The suffering of pigs and cattle in factory farming (and their slaughter) to provide these fats should be a concern to everyone.
Head of Boeing not optimistic that SAF will be cheap enough any time soon
The head of Boeing has warned that biofuels will “never achieve the price of jet fuel”, expecting that this central pillar of the aviation sector’s strategy to slash emissions is not likely to be successful. Airlines say that so-called "sustainable aviation fuels" (SAF) — made from food wastes, agricultural and forestry waste, and domestic rubbish, could enable lower CO2 from the sector, by replacing the kerosene-type fuels, such as Jet A, used in aircraft today. But SAF currently accounts for less than 1% of global aviation consumption and its price is at least x2 or x3 that of kerosene fuel. If the fuel could be made in anything approaching the scale the aviation industry wants, and without other serious unintended agricultural and environmental impacts, it would still be expensive. The extra cost would have to mean more expensive flying, and thus fewer people flying - less future growth for the sector. “There are no cheap ways to do SAF — if there were, we would already be doing them.” Governments want to mandate use of SAF by airports, even though it is not available in large amounts.
European airline sector fears competitors from outside the EU that don’t have CO2 reduction goals
European airlines fear losing out to rivals based outside the EU that can ignore the bloc's emissions-reduction rules to become carbon neutral by 2050. The EU's "Fit for 55" package sets out an initial goal of reducing CO2 emissions by 55% in 2030 compared with the 1990 level. This involves EU obligations to scale up the use of sustainable aviation fuels (SAFs) to be blended with fossil fuels in all flights departing from European airports. SAFs come from sources such as municipal solid waste, leftovers from the agricultural and forestry industry, used cooking oil, crops and plants, and hydrogen. The makers of the fuels claim they have considerably lower CO2 emissions than conventional kerosene (though about the same when burned in a jet engine). SAF is still in its early stages, with very little produced - and it is much more expensive than kerosene, so flights using it would cost more. If people choose to fly first to Istanbul or Doha or Dubai for the next part of a long flight, it would cost less than flying from a European airport. Airports like Istanbul hope to grow massively in coming years.
Climate groups taking government to High Court over greenwash “Jet Zero” aviation strategy
In July 2022, the UK government published a "Jet Zero" strategy (the best part of which is the catchy name). It aspires to allow the UK airline sector to continue to grow, with unrealistic hopes of being able to decarbonise with novel fuels. It was widely condemned at the time as being greenwashing, with no credible ways to achieve its goals, and its steadfast refusal to contemplate measures to reduce the demand for flights. Two organisations, GALBA and Possible, challenged the government. In October 2022, with lawyers at Leigh Day, Possible filed for a judicial review of the “Jet Zero” strategy. They now have permission to proceed to a joint hearing. This is a hugely important milestone in climate change litigation in the UK. Experts have judged the plans in Jet Zero to be inadequate, and lawyers will argue that the failure to consider this risk to the delivery of its plans renders its net zero aviation strategy unlawful. The key grounds on which the challenge will be heard in the High Court are: The government failed to lay a report before Parliament setting out how the strategy would enable carbon budgets to be met. And the government failed to consult in a lawful manner by having a “closed mind” before the consultation commenced on whether demand management measures were required.
Imperial College briefing paper on low-carbon fuels for aviation
A paper has been published by Imperial College, on low-carbon fuels for aviation. The authors looked carefully at the various fuels that the sector is hoping to use in future, to enable it to continue with its expansion plans, flying ever more people each year. The Imperial scientists concluded that hydrogen is impractical and will not contribute significantly as jet fuel in the foreseeable future. They looked at fuels made from various wastes, and their real lifecycle costs, including manufacture and emissions when burned in a jet engine ("well to wake"),and concluded that the scope for production of such fuels, that genuinely offer a CO2 advantage, on a large enough scale, is unlikely. For fuels made from plant material, it is important to look at the timescale of carbon absorption by plants, and its emissions when burned. Ignoring the time lag makes these fuels look unrealistically positive. Looking at "power to liquid" fuels, ie. those made using surplus renewably-generated electricity, they conclude that there will not be enough of this electricity available to make jet fuels in sufficient quantity. They appreciate that it is important that novel fuels to not have other negative environmental impacts. All the novel fuels come with serious problems of scalability and dubious carbon savings.