US Boeing to push for 1% alternative jet fuel use by 2015

07 June 2011 23:15  [Source: ICIS news]

SAO PAULO, Brazil (ICIS)--US aircraft maker Boeing plans to have 600m gal of alternative fuels being used by airlines in 2015, or 1% of total consumption by the sector for that year, a company official said on Tuesday.

The company is considering all kind of alternative fuels, including fermented fuels, biologically modified ones as well as pyrolysis, said Boeing’s senior fuel engineer Jim Kinder during a presentation at the 2011 Ethanol Summit in Sao Paulo.

But Kinder said all fuels would have to be "drop-in" options, which do not require changes to current engine designs.

Switching to a completely different type of fuel is not an option because of the high cost involved in getting engines re-certified, the executive said.

Boeing is investing in research and development of alternative fuels, and the company has projects and studies in several countries, Kinder said.

Flight tests so far have met or exceeded expectations, and regional assessments are underway in Australia, China, Mexico and the US, he added.

Brazilian aircraft maker Embraer is also investing in the development of alternative jet fuels, an Embraer official said during the event, citing a goal by the sector to reduce its carbon footprint.

Embraer will test a sugarcane-based fuel in 2012 in partnership with Brazilian airline Azul Linhas Aereas, US biotech firm Amyris and US engine manufacturer General Electric, said Guilherme Freire, Embraer’s environmental, strategies and technologies director.

Freire said aviation accounts for only 2% of man-made carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions and 3% of global greenhouse gas emissions.

But emissions are set to triple by 2050 if no action is taken, he predicted.

The push towards alternative fuels stems from an effort to curb emissions, but it also reflects concerns that rising crude oil prices will further erode profitability in the aviation sector.

Fuel accounts for around 40% of the costs for an airline, said Charles Schlumberger, lead air transport specialist with the World Bank.

Schlumberger, who also spoke at the event in Sao Paulo, said airlines were expecting to make a profit this year, but the latest jump in crude oil prices, if sustained, could put the sector in the red yet again.

The recent increase in crude oil prices could cost airlines an additional $53bn (€37bn) this year, he said.

Aviation is a tough business to be in, Schlumberger said, adding that airlines make money only if they are good "gamblers".

Volatility makes it difficult to operate, and airlines make and lose money depending on how well they hedge their fuel positions, he said.

Aviation could be a great market opportunity for the renewable fuels industry because engine types are very similar across the world, the official said.

There are very few types of airplanes being flown, so biofuels makers could have a new global market overnight, he told delegates.

The challenge, however, is that finding a sustainable alternative fuel that can be produced on a large scale may prove much more complex for airplanes than it did for automobiles and trucks.

Embraer said it has one small type of airplane in Brazil that was certified to run on ethanol, but technical issues, including freezing points, would make it impossible to use ethanol in commercial airliners.

The biofuel can be used if an airplane is flying at 20,000 feet, but it would be a problem at higher altitudes, Freire said.

The amount of ethanol needed to fly an airliner would also make it unviable, he said, comparing the lower energy content of ethanol with that of regular kerosene.

The 2011 Ethanol Summit opened on Monday, 6 June and closes on Tuesday, 7 June.

($1= €0.69)

By: William Lemos
+1 713 525 2653

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