Biofuels: Aviation industry starts biofuel use in commercial flights

21 November 2011 00:00  [Source: ICB]

United Airlines flew 189 passengers using algae-based jet fuel
Leading international airlines are ready to use advanced biofuel in commercial flights

Advanced renewable fuel industries worldwide are flying high on announcements from major international airlines seeking to use fuels made from non-food feedstock such as algae, camelina, jatropha and biomass.

Demonstration flights have been making the news but this year has also seen the aviation industry's first commercial flights in North America that use biofuel, said Jim Rekoske, vice president and general manager of Renewable Energy and Chemicals for US-based UOP, a business of Honeywell.

AeroMexico, he said, has begun to use UOP's Green Jet Fuel on its Mexico City to Costa Rica route on a Boeing 737-700 that carries up to 124 passengers. The flight uses a 15% blend of the jet fuel made from camelina oilseed, and the rest from petroleum-based fuel.

According to Mexican government agency Aeropuertos y Servicios Auxiliares (ASA), the Mexican aviation sector expects biofuels to account for 1% of the fuel used in Mexico by 2015, rising to 15% by 2020.

In August, AeroMexico also demonstrated the world's first transcontinental flight using Honeywell's Green Jet Fuel provided by ASA. The flight from Mexico City to Madrid used a 30% biofuel blend made with jatropha oilseed.

In October, Iberia Airlines partnered with Spain-based oil and gas company Repsol to demonstrate the use of Green Jet Fuel made from camelina for a flight from Madrid to Barcelona. For both flights, ASA performed the blending of the biofuel.

Later that month, Honeywell supplied its Green Jet Fuel for the Air China demonstration flight, which took off and landed in Beijing. The fuel used was made up of 50% jatropha-based material and the petroleum oil was supplied by PetroChina.

In November, Green Jet Fuel was also used in a United Airlines commercial demonstration flight carrying 189 passengers from Houston, Texas, to Chicago O'Hare airport - both in the US.

The flight used a 40% algae-derived jet-fuel blend developed by US renewable chemical firm Solazyme. United Airlines also said it intends to purchase 20m gal/year (70,000 tonnes/year) of Solazyme's algae-derived jet fuel for delivery as early as 2014. The end product will be refined by UOP.

Honeywell said its Green Jet Fuel already meets all specifications for flight, and when used in a 50:50 blend with petroleum-derived jet fuel, is a drop-in replacement that requires no changes to the aircraft or engine. More than 700,000 gallons of the fuel has been produced for use in more than 20 test and commercial flights on military and commercial platforms, said Rekoske.

International industry association Air Transport Action Group (ATAG), based in Switzerland, says alternative fuels have been identified as candidates for helping to achieve the industry's target of reducing net aviation carbon emissions by 50% in 2050 from the 2005 baseline, and limiting its exposure to volatile oil and jet kerosene prices worldwide.

"If commercial aviation were to get 6% of its fuel supply from biofuel by 2020, this would reduce its overall carbon footprint by 5%," said ATAG in an April 2011 report. "Today it is not economical for airlines to use biofuels. But given the importance of decarbonizing the air transport sector, there is a strong case for government support to accelerate the scaling up of this young aviation biofuels industry, to bring forward the date when these new fuels become economically viable," reported ATAG.

Europe is leading the way towards greater aviation biofuel consumption. In June, the European Commission, with US aircraft maker Boeing and representatives of the aviation and biofuel industries in Europe, launched the Biofuel Flightpath plan, with a goal to achieve 2m tons of sustainable biofuels used in the EU civil aviation sector by 2020.

By: Doris de Guzman
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