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  • Writer's pictureAndreas Hardeman

Renewable Jet Fuels: Here To Stay

(Originally published on 6 September 2019)


Like many other “novel” concepts, the use of biofuels to power combustion engines has actually been around for a long time. Rudolf Diesel’s first engines ran on peanut oil. Henry Ford originally designed his Model T to run on corn ethanol. Putting aside the use of hydrogen and coal gas to lift manned balloons in the late 18 and early 1900s, and the sporadic use of “liquid coal” in the 20th century, aviation has always predominantly relied on petroleum derivatives.


But change is in the air. The International Energy Agency (IEA) anticipates biofuels reaching around 10% of aviation fuel demand by 2030, and close to 20% by 2040.


Although predictably met with ridicule and skepticism, Virgin Atlantic’s successful biofuel test in 2008 effectively sparked a global quest for sustainable and affordable alternatives to conventional jet fuel. Since then, social and political pressures to address aviation’s growing CO2 emissions problem, combined with a desire by airlines to escape the price volatility of kerosene, has jolted industry into action.


Various airlines have partnered up with biofuel manufacturers, signalling aviation’s growing commitment to scale up its sustainable biojet use: Cathay Pacific with Fulcrum, United Airlines with AltAir, All Nippon Airways with LanzaTech, KLM with SkyNRG, and Air France with Total/Amyris. Long-term offtake agreements now cumulatively cover around 6 billion litres of renewable jet fuel. Airports in Brisbane, Los Angeles and Stockholm, among others, already offer regular biofuel distribution.


In an exciting example of how the convergence of technologies accelerates innovation and compounds societal benefits, Aerion’s AS2 supersonic jet will be designed to run on synthetic paraffinic kerosene (SPK) biofuel with a potential to reduce CO2 emissions by 40 percent or more.


Recently, the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reported that nearly all of the climate measures assessed for limiting global warming to below 1.5C “require large-scale bioenergy programmes” to succeed. Given aviation’s projected growth in CO2 emissions, surely this must include biojet fuel programmes as well.


Over the next few weeks we will take a closer look at the success factors and latest technological advancements in this rapidly growing area of interest for aviation.


 

This is Part 4 in a mini-series of blog posts focusing on emerging air transportation technologies and their contribution to sustainable development.


About the author: Andreas Hardeman (The Hague, 1967) is an internationally experienced air transportation lawyer, sustainability expert and acclaimed aviation writer and commentator on current industry trends. Opinions in this blog are exclusively those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of his business associates or clients. He can be contacted directly at info@astraworx.com

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