Biofuels News

Below are links to stories about aviation biofuels.

Unconvincing airline hype about large future use of so called “sustainable aviation fuels”

Airlines are falling over each other, to say how much "Sustainable Aviation Fuel" (SAF) they plan to use in future, and how this will greatly increase their carbon emissions. Ryanair says it will use 12.5% SAF by 2030; IAG says it will use 10% by 2030; easyJet says they will use SAF in the short term, but "we must avoid all resources being drawn into SAFs, which don’t fully solve the problem."  According to the European Commission, SAF currently accounts for just 0.05% of jet fuel use in the EU, and without further regulation, the share is expected to reach just 2.8% by 2050. There is disagreement between low cost, short haul airlines and those flying longer routes, about whether SAF fuel quotas should apply to all flights, not only short haul. Long-haul air services departing European airports accounted for 48% of CO2 emissions from all operations in 2019, while making up just 6% of flights, according to Eurocontrol data.  It is unclear what all this SAF is going to be made from. One of the very few fuels thought to genuinely be low carbon, up to now, has been used cooking oil. But it has been revealed that there is considerable fraud, with virgin palm oil (causing deforestation) being passed off as used.

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Sweden to increase airport fees for less fuel efficient planes; danger of promoting bio jet fuels

The Swedish government plans to charge airlines more at takeoff and landing if their aircraft are less fuel efficient.  It must be approved by parliament. The plan might take effect in July and means that newer and less inefficient aircraft will benefit from the scheme, while older planes, more fuel-hungry planes will be hit with higher fees.  Sweden may be the first to do this.  It will affect Arlanda airport in Stockholm and Landvetter in Gothenburg, and the plan is still under discussion and being fine-tuned. However, it will consider aircraft using biofuels as low carbon. There are only very tiny amounts of biofuel available, that do not cause considerable environmental harm. Some can be produced from woody waste, from the wood industry. Some from domestic waste. It is expensive to produce. The cheapest source of these fuels would be palm oil, which would have very negative impacts on biodiversity, competing with land for human food, and also in reality produce as much CO2 over the full life-cycle as fossil kerosene.

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AEF: Claim that new jet fuel from waste will massively cut aviation CO2 is dangerously misleading

UK Government has launched new funding to spur the development of "sustainable aviation fuel" (SAF) from waste. There have been claims that US scientists have found a way to ‘massively reduce carbon emissions from flying’. The benefits of the novel way to make jet fuel are exaggerated. The Aviation Environment Federation (AEF) says that the claims require some very dodgy carbon accounting. They are adding the methane that might be generated by decomposing rubbish, and assumptions about carbon emissions - but ignoring the CO2 emissions produced when the fuel is burnt. In fact these emissions would be slightly higher, from waste-derived fuel, than conventional fuel, as it has a slightly higher carbon content.  A better way to prevent methane from rotting landfill waste would be to cut food waste, divert biodegradable rubbish away from landfill sites and use methane capture technologies there. Cait Hewitt of AEF said "any government incentives for use of alternative fuels for aviation will need very clear and transparent guidelines to ensure that they actually cut aviation emissions, to avoid this kind of accounting smokescreen in future." Government is  In the meantime, cutting back on flying is easily the best way of reducing aviation emissions."

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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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Climate Change Committee – 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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