Biofuels for Air Transport

Contents

Biofuels in Aviation - An overview

EC R&D and Support for use of Sustainable Biofuels in Aviation

Global and National Initiatives on Sustainable Biofuels for Aviation

Recent publications on biofuels in aviation

Standards for renewable jet fuels

Recent R&D&D on feedstocks, conversion technologies and biofuels for sustainable aviation

Recent demonstration flights with bio jet fuel

Earlier demonstration flights

Biofuels in aviation - older studies and reports

Biofuels in Aviation - An Overview

Current status

Global energy consumption in the transport sector accounted for approximately 2,300 Mtoe in 2009, with 10 % of it consumed by global aviation (figure 1, AMF 2011). In the EU (2011) intra-EU air transport accounted for 13.9 % of final energy consumption in transport sector, which corresponds to 50.5 Mtoe (EC 2013).

Figure 1: Global view on transport modes 2009 (AMF 2011)

Air transport is more important for transporting passengers than for goods. In 2011, intra-EU air transport contributed to passenger transportation with 8.8 % or 575.1 billion pkm. In comprison, only 0.1 % of freight was transported via intra-EU air traffic (EC 2013).

Alternative fuels for air transportation

Traditional jet fuel is a hydrocarbon, almost exclusively obtained from the kerosene fraction of crude oil. Two types of fuels are used in commercial aviation: Jet-A and Jet A-1. Fuel specifications for aviation fuels are very stringent.

For aviation, advanced liquid biofuels are the only low-CO2 option for substituting kerosene, as they have a high specific energy content. Gaseous biofuels and electrification are definitely no option for air transportation. Advanced biofuels for aviation should use a sustainable resource to produce a fuel that can be considered as substitute for traditional jet fuel (Jet A and Jet A-1), while not consuming valuable food, land and water resources.

A big challenge facing the use of biofuels in aviation is the high quality standards requirements. Safety and fuel quality specifications are of tremendous importance in the aviation sector, however, these are not limiting the use of biofuels. The technical requirements for aviation biofuels are: a high performance fuel, that can withstand a range of operational conditions; a fuel that does not compromise safety; a fuel that can directly substitute traditional jet fuel aviation; a fuel that meets stringent performance targets (ATAG 2009).

plane fuelling

ASTM-certified biofuels represent no technical or safety problem in flights. Currently, the following fuel categories are approved by the standard:

  • Hydrogenated Esters and Fatty Acids (HEFA)
  • Fischer-Tropsch (FT) based on biomass (BtL - biomass to liquid)
  • Renewable Synthesized Iso-Paraffinic (SIP) fuel (renewable farnesane hydrocarbon)

Other options incldue ATJ Alcohol to Jet Fuel and Hydrogenated Pyrolysis Oils (HPO).

Globally, various sustainable feedstocks and conversion technologies for production of biofuels for aviation are currently being developed by research organisations, airlines, fuel producers and aircraft manufactuers. In the short term, HEFA appears to be the most promising alternative to supply significant amounts of biofuel for aviation. In the medium term, the most promising alternative is drop-in FT-fuels.

The aviation industry is unlikely to rely on just one type of feedstock. Aircrafts will be powered by blends of biofuels from different types of feedstocks along with jet fuel. Biomass sources for advanced bio-jet fuels include oil crops such as Jatropha and Camelina, waste fats and oils, and, in the longer term, biomass sugars, algae and halophytes (IEA Bioenergy 2012, ATAG 2009, EBTP 2014).

Testing of biofuels is crucial to determine suitability for aviation. In the testing process, which aims to maintain the highest standards in safety, biofuels must undergo dozens of experiments in the laboratory, on the ground and in the air (ATAG 2009). Many major airlines and air forces have been involved in some kind of test flights with biofuels and the number of these demonstration flights continues to grow and indicate the increasing interest in biofuels for aviation. Biofuels have been used in commercial passenger flights since the Autumn of 2011, and several subsequent biofuels test flights are included on this page.

Future perspectives for biofuels in air transport

Aviation is one of the strongest growing transport sectors and this trend will continue. In the period up to 2030, global aviation is expected to grow by 5 % annually according to International Air Transport Association IATA (See IATA Fact Sheet on Alternative Fuels). The demand for aviation fuels is expected to increase by approximately 1.5-3 % per year. (IEA Bioenergy 2012). For the EU, aviation transport is expected to grow at an average rate of 3 % annually until 2050, with a fuel consumption growth of 2 % annually (EC 2011 Update 2013).

There is policy at EU level for the production and use of biofuels in the aviation sector and several initiatives established:
The White Paper – Roadmap to a Single European Transport Area (COM (2011) 144) aims to reach a share of 40 % use of sustainable low carbon fuels in aviation by 2050.

The High Level Group on Aviation Research sets ambitious goals including a 75 % reduction in CO2 emissions and a 90 % reduction in NOx emissions per passenger kilometer in 2050 (EUR 098 EN 2011). The same document also claims that Europe should be established as a centre of excellence on sustainable alternative fuels, based on a strong European energy policy.

The International Air Transport Association is committed to achieve carbon-neutral growth starting 2020 and a 50 % overall CO2 emissions reduction by 2050 (EUR 098 EN).

The EC, in coordination with Airbus, leading European airlines (Lufthansa, Air France/KLM, & British Airways) and key European biofuel producers (Neste Oil, Biomass Technology Group and UOP), launched an initiative to speed up the commercialisation of aviation biofuels in Europe. The European Advanced Biofuels Flight path is a roadmap with clear milestones to achieve an annual production of two million tonnes of sustainably produced biofuel for aviation by 2020. The Biofuels Flight Path initiative is a shared and voluntary commitment by its members to support and promote the production, storage and distribution of sustainably produced drop-in biofuels for use in aviation.

Drivers with potentially the greatest impacts on the development of biojetfuels use in the medium term might be (IEA Bioenergy 2012):

  • Overall jetfuel demand (growth of aviation sector, specific jetfuel demand)
  • Overall biojetfuel availability (availability of advanced biojetfuel production technologies, infrastructure and logistics for large scale production, progress in plant breeding)
  • Environmental effects (Carbon burden of jetfuels, carbon burden of biojetfuels, effects of additional greenhouse effects)
  • Market development (development of oil price, development of biojetfuel prices, development of CO2 prices and/or further regulations, further regulations for other emissions forcing the greenhouse effect)
  • International trade (standards for biojetfuel quality, sustainability certification for biojetfuels)

At present several hurdles prevent commercial deployment of advanced biofuels: lack of reliable overall biofuel policy, lack of policy incentives for aviation biofuels, lack of long term off-take agreements between the biofuel producers and the aviation industry, and lack of financing.

To help address this, a number of EC-funded R&D projects and initiatives have been initiated to map a way forward for the introduction of sustainable biofuels to help reduce dependence on fossil fuels in air transport and reduce GHG emissions by the air industry.

EC R&D and Support for Aviation Biofuels

FlightPath 2050: Europe's Vision for Aviation

A broad vision for sustainable aviation in the EC is covered by the report FlightPath 2050: Europe's Vision for Aviation produced by the High-level Group on Aviation Research.

High Biofuel Blends in Aviation (HBBA) Study and BioJetMap Workshop

A High Biofuel Blends in Aviation (HBBA) Study and BioJetMap Workshop was held in Brussels on 11 February 2015:

Day One Presentations (zip folder)

  • Background and fuels used
  • Properties of biokerosene
  • Material Compatibility
  • Effects on emissions

Day Two Presentations (zip folder)

  • Aviation biofuels - achievements to date
  • Scale of Opportunity and Challenges
  • Sustainable Aviation Fuels - The Airbus Approach
  • Potential impact of bio-based kerosene on refining
  • What FAO Thinks and Does about Sustainable Bioenergy
  • Update on the EU Legislative Framework
  • How to achieve a level playing field
  • Harmonisation of sustainability standards
  • Sustainable fuels in aviation - Feasibility study on deployment of aviation biofuels in Finland
  • Bioport Holland

BioJetMap

The BioJetMap is a Biokerosene flight database and web application initiated in 2012, and further developed under the HBBA study project. The scope is global and historical. Its time-enabling traces the evolution of the aviation biofuels sector through successive demonstration, test and commercial flights. Its sortable tabular indexes enable exploration by feedstock, biofuel, and airline.

European Advanced Biofuels Flight Path Initiative

The EC, in coordination with Airbus, leading European airlines (Lufthansa, Air France/KLM, & British Airways) and key European biofuel producers (Neste Oil, Biomass Technology Group and UOP), launched an initiative to speed up the commercialisation of aviation biofuels in Europe.

The initiative European Advanced Biofuels Flight Path is a roadmap with clear milestones to achieve an annual production of two million tonnes of sustainably produced biofuel for aviation by 2020. The "Biofuels Flight path" is a shared and voluntary commitment by its members to support and promote the production, storage and distribution of sustainably produced drop-in biofuels for use in aviation. It also targets establishing appropriate financial mechanisms to support the construction of industrial "first of a kind" advanced biofuel production plants.

In 2011, the European Commission in partnership with Airbus, and in cooperation with leading European Airlines (Lufthansa, Air France/KLM, and British Airways) and biofuel producers (Choren Industries, Neste Oils, Biomass Technology Group, and UOP) launched the European Advanced Biofuels Flightpath.

PDF IconLaunch of the European Advanced Biofuels Flightpath

PDF Icon2 million tons per year: A performing biofuels supply chain for EU aviation (6 Mb). The Biofuels Flight Path is explained in this Technical Paper which sets out in more detail the challenges and required actions. The key findings of the technical paper were presented to the stakeholders during a Workshop Achieving 2 million tonnes of biofuels use in aviation by 2020 held in Brussels on 18 May 2011.

Other Biofuels Flight Path events:

  • Recognition of Aviation Biofuels in the ETS - 6 July 2016 - In 2016, a number of batches of biofuels for aviation have been produced and a significant amount of flights performed. The workshop explores how in different cases the biofuel could be accounted for under the ETS scheme and highlights critical issues to be solved in the future. Agenda and presentations
  • High Biofuel Blends in Aviation (HBBA) Study and BioJetMap Workshop - 11 February 2015.
    Day 1 - Agenda and Presentations, Day 2 - Agenda and Presentations
  • Biofuels FlightPath 4th Workshop: Financial mechanisms for advanced biofuel flagship plants - 20 March 2013.
  • Biofuels FlightPath 3rd Workshop: The role of a European Civil Aviation Network in the promotion of aviation sustainable fuel and the deployment of the Biofuels Flight Path - 12 December 2012.
  • The 2nd Biofuels FlightPath Workshop Progress and benchmarking of paraffinic value chains  was held on 20 Septmber 2011 in brussels. Presentations and more information are available online.

The lauch of the Flightpath initiative was challenged by the NGO, Friends of the Earth in the publication Flying in the Face of Facts.

Inclusion of Aviation in the EU Emission Trading Scheme ETS

It has been announced that all flights in and out of EU airports are to be included in the EU Emissions Trading Scheme for 2012 (a scheme based on a "cap and trade" system for emissions allowances). The decision to include international flights is being legally challenged by some US airlines. From 2013, at least half the total number of ETS allowances is expected to be auctioned. It has been argued that money raised should be reinvested in R&D&D in sustainable technologies. For example in the aviation sector, proceeds from ETS could potentially be used to support the demonstration of advanced biojetfuels at the industrial scale.

ITAKA - Initiative Towards sustAinable Kerosene for Aviation

PDF Icon View presentation made at EBTP SPM7, June 2016, by Inmaculada Gomez Jimenez, ITAKA, on the Decarbonisation of transport in the aviation sector

ITAKA Slide

In December 2012, the EC launched the ITAKA project, which is looking at removing the barriers to the use of sustainable biofuels in aviation and contribute to the EC’s ‘Biofuel Flight Path Initiative’ annual production target of two million tonnes of biofuel for aviation by 2020.

The project aims to produce sustainable renewable aviation fuel and to test its use in existing logistic systems and in normal flight operations in Europe. The project will also link supply and demand by establishing relationships among feedstock growers and producers, biofuel producers, distributors, and airlines.

As feedstock, ITAKA targets European camelina oil and used cooking oil, in order to meet a minimum of 60% on greenhouse gas emission saving compared to the fossil Jet A1. The project aims to certify the entire supply chain of the renewable aviation fuel, based on the Roundtable on Sustainable Biofuels (RSB) EU RED standard. In addition, the production and use of camelina as a biofuel feedstock will also be assessed with regards to its contribution to food and feed markets and its potential impact on direct and Indirect Land Use Change (ILUC).

The research will also evaluate the economic, social and regulatory implications of the large-scale biofuels utilisation in aviation. Consortium members include feedstock production (BIOTEHGEN and Camelina Company España); renewable fuel production (Neste Oil and RE-CORD); fuel logistics (CLH and SkyNRG); air transport (Airbus, EADS IW UK, Embraer and SENASA); and sustainability assessment (EADS IW France, EPFL and MMU).

CORE Jet-FUEL - Coordinating research and innovation of jet and other sustainable aviation fuel

The FP7 Project CORE Jet-FUEL - Coordinating research and innovation of jet and other sustainable aviation fuels - links initiatives and projects at the EU and Member State level, serving as a focal point in this area to all public and private stakeholders. CORE-JetFuel addresses competent authorities, research institutions, feedstock and fuel producers, distributors, aircraft and engine manufactures, airlines and NGOs. Activities are dividided into for 4 broad areas covering feedstocks, conversion, end-use, and policies and market development. The CORE-JetFuel Final International Conference took place during the EU Sustainable Energy Week (EUSEW) on 16-17 June 2016 in Brussels.

BIOREFLY

The FP7 project BIOREFLY (2014-2018) involves the industrial-scale demonstration of 2,000 t/y bioefinery processes to convert lignin to aviation fuel:

  • Validation at pre-commercial scale on novel competitive technologies for lignocellulosic-based aviation fuel production
  • Design, construction and operation of a first-of-a-kind paraffinic fuel industrial facility
  • Address the complete value chain, including the conversion of lignocellulosic energy crops and agro residues into biofuel
  • Test of jet fuel use in turbines and engines including demonstration flights, as steps towards ASTM validation

The major steps in the process are catalytic depolymerization of lignin -> separation -> hydrogenation ->dehydration -> distillation -> jet fuel

 

FORUM-AE - Forum on Aviation and Emissions

The FORUM-AE Forum on Aviation and Emissions is a technical and scientific forum addressing all issues associated with emissions from aviation: impacts, technical solutions and regulation, and support for European research and innovation.

SWAFEA: Sustainable Way for Alternative Fuel and Energy in Aviation

SWAFEA was a 26 month study (starting May 2009) with €5.1m funding from DG-TREN involving 19 partners from aviation and fuel industries, airlines, research and consultancy to develop a vision and road map for sustinable deployment of alternative fuels and energies in aviation

ALFA-BIRD

ALFA-BIRD gathers a multi-disciplinary consortium that aims to develop the use of alternative fuels in aeronautics, with key industrial partners from aeronautics (engine manufacturer, aircraft manufacturer) and fuel industy, and research organization covering a large spectrum of expertise in fields of biochemistry, combustion as well as industrial safety. Bringing together their knowledge, the consortium will develop the whole chain for clean alternative fuels for aviation. The most promising solutions will be examined during the project, from classical ones (plant oils, synthetic fuels) to the most innovative, such as new organic molecules. Based on a first selection of  the most relevant alternative fuels, a detailed analysis of up to 5 new fuels will be performed with tests in realistic conditions. 

BioTfuel is a 112.7m Euro joint project launched in 2010 by six partners. BioTfueL aims to integrate all the stages of the BTL process chain and bring them to market. The project includes the construction and operation of two pilot plants in France to produce biodiesel and biokerosene (bio-jet fuel) based on biomass gasification. Partner include :

  • Axens in the design of catalytic processes, especially Fischer-Tropsch synthesis.
  • IFP Energies Nouvelles and the French Alternative Energies and Atomic Energy Commission (CEA) in research and innovation.
  • Sofiprotéol in sourcing.
  • ThyssenKrupp Uhde in gasification technology.
  • Total in the development of industrial projects and the formulation of transportation fuels.

SOLAR-JET (Solar chemical reactor demonstration and Optimization for Long-term Availability of Renewable JET fuel) is an FP7 project to demonstrate production of keroene and other fuels from CO2 and water using concentrated solar power.

Clean Sky JTI

The Clean Sky JTI is one of the largest European research projects ever, with a budget estimated at €1.6 billion, equally shared between the European Commission and industry, over the period 2008 - 2013. This public-private partnership will speed up technological breakthrough developments and shorten the time to market for new solutions tested on Full Scale Demonstrators.

"Clean Sky will demonstrate and validate the technology breakthroughs that are necessary to make major steps towards the environmental goals sets by ACARE - Advisory Concil for Aeronautics Research in Europe - the European Technology Platform for Aeronautics & Air Transport and to be reached in 2020:"

  • 50% reduction of CO2 emissions through drastic reduction of fuel consumption
  • 80% reduction of NOx (nitrogen oxide) emissions 
  • 50% reduction of external noise
  • A green product life cycle: design, manufacturing, maintenance and disposal / recycling

This will be achieved by technologies in areas such as loads and flow control, Aircraft Energy Management, NOx and CO2 reduction, rotorcraft, regional aircraft, trajectory management, smart fixed-wing aircraft, etc.

 

Global initiatives and National activities in support of sustainable aviation biofuels

Sustainable Aviation Fuel Users Group, SAFUG

The Sustainable Aviation Fuel Users Group was formed in September 2008 Support and advice is provided by leading environmental organisations including the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Roundtable on Sustainable Biofuels (RSB). The group is focused on accelerating the development and commercialization of sustainable aviation biofuels. Members include several of the world's major airlines. Affiliates include aircraft manufacturers, such as Boeing and Airbus, as well as fuel developers such as, UOP, a Honeywell Company. SAFUG members agree to contribute to robust sustainability and certification regimes via the RSB global multi-stakeholder process. All members subscribe to a sustainability pledge stipulating that any sustainable biofuel must perform as well as, or better than, kerosene-based fuel, but with a smaller carbon lifecycle.

National Initiatives on Sustainable Aviation

In January 2014 it was announced that Boeing, Etihad Airways, Takreer, Total and the Masdar Institute of Science and Technology are collaborating an a new initiative 'BIOjet Abu Dhabi: Flight Path to Sustainability' to develop biojet fuel capacity in the United Arab Emirates.

In a related project, the Sustainable Bioenergy Research Consortium is developing an Integrated Seawater Energy and Agriculture System (ISEAS) to cultivate the halophyte Salicornia as a sustainable feedstock for biofuel productio.

In the Netherlands, KLM, SkyNRG, Neste Oil, Schiphol Group, Port of Amsterdam and the Dutch government have developed the BioPort Holland supply chain.

In Norway, Oslo Airport is developing a hub to receive and supply biojet fuel. From March 2015, Statoil Aviation will deliver 2.5m litres of biofuel produced from UCO (enough for ~3000 flights with 50% biojet). Statoil Aviation has entered into supply agreements with Lufthansa Group, SAS and KLM.

In Spain, the bioqueroseno initiative - Spanish Initiative for the Production and Consumption of Biokerosene for Aviation - has its origins in the 2009 ICAO Conference on Alternative Fuels for Aviation, and was launched in October 2011. The initiative brings together several Spanish ministries as well as compnaies active in production of raw materials, refining technologies, aeronautical logistics and sustainability, with a strong involvement from Airbus. Spain also actively participates in SUSTAF.

In February 2014, Airbus announced the formation of a consortium in Malaysia to ensure the sustainability of future biojet feedstocks. Partners include AMIC Aerospace Malaysia Innovation Centre, MiGHT Malaysian Industry-Government Group for High technology, University Putra Malaysia, CIRAD, France, and BioTech Corp, Malaysia.

In June 2011, a group of 20 airlines, aviation companies, universities and biofuel producers lauched AIREG the Aviation Initiative for Renewable Energy in Germany. It aims at coordinating research activities and fostering the market introduction of "climate friendly" aviation fuels in Germany.

The AUFWIND project, Germany, was launced in 2013 and involves twelve partners from research and industry, who are developing microalgae as a basis for the production of biokerosene. Key questions addressed are the economic and ecological feasibility of the process. The Federal Ministry of Food, Agriculture and Consumer Protection (BMELV) is funding the project with € 5.75 million via its project management organization FNR (Fachagentur Nachwachsende Rohstoffe). Total funding for the project amounts to some € 7.4 million.

In the United States, the USDA and FAA have developed a Feedstock Readiness Tool (FSRL) to track the availabuility of potential feedstocks for bio jet fuel, with tha aim of improving supply chains and matching them to appropriate conversion technologies. Also n the US, the Commercial Aviation Alternative Fuels Initiative (CAAFI) "seeks to enhance energy security and environmental sustainability for aviation by exploring the use of alternative jet fuels. CAAFI is a coalition of airlines, aircraft and engine manufacturers, energy producers, researchers, international participants and U.S. government agencies. Together these stakeholders are leading the development and deployment of alternative jet fuels for commercial aviation."

In August 2013, Airbus and RT-Biotekhprom signed a cooperation agreement to analyze the availability of sustainable feedstock for aviation biofuels in Russia. Airbus is developing sustainable supply chains for biojet fuel feedstocks globally.

In February 2014, the Civil Aviation Administration of China granted Sinopec the first "certificate of airworthiness" for biojet fuel.

Recent publications and links on biofuels in aviation

The Air Transport Action Group ATAG has produced two publications that provide a useful overview of progress, issues and opportunities for biofuels in aviation:

pdf - 2 MB Powering the future of flight - The six easy steps to growing a viable aviation biofuels industry

pdf - 2 MB Beginner's Guide to Aviation Biofuels

In August 2012, IEA Bioenergy Task 40 published the report The Potential Role of Biofuels in Commercial Air Transport - BioJetFuel, which provides a good overview of the current situation and issues affecting the development of biofuels for use in aviation.

The Long Haul to Alternative Aviation Fuels a presentation by Dr. Charles Cameron, Head of Technology, Downstream BP Refining & Marketing made in June 2012.

In June 2013, Qantas and Shell published a report Australian feedstock and production capacity to produce sustainable aviation fuel, concluding that significant public subsidies will be required for commercial development of aviation biofuels to be economically viable.

FlightPath 2050: Europe's Vision for Aviation

COM (2011) 144: White paper – Roadmap to a Single European Transport Area – Towards a competitive and resource efficient transport system

EC 2011 Update 2013: 2 million tons per year: a performing biofuels supply chain for EU aviation – August 2013 Update

EC 2013: EU transport in figures – statistical pocketbook 2013

EUR 098 EN 2011: Flightpath 2050 – Europe’s Vision for Aviation

Links to other reports on aviation biofuels can be found below and in the EBTP reports database.

Standards for renewable jet fuels

So far, five aviation biofuels have been approved to meet ASTM International standards. These aviation biofuels are:

  • Alcohol to Jet Synthetic Paraffinice Kerosene (ATJ-SPK): created from isobutanol derived from feed stocks such as sugar and corn.
  • Synthesized Iso-parafins (SIP) (renewable farnesene hydrocarbon): developd by Total and Amyris, produced by converting plant sugars into farnesene using an 'industrial synthetic biology platform'. In September 2014, Lufthansa made the first scheduled flight in Europe using a 10% blend of farnesene in Germany. In December 2014, Amyyris biojet fuel was approved for use in Brazil by the national regulator ANP.
  • Hydro-processed Esters and Fatty Acids Synthetic Paraffinic Kerosene (HEFA-SPK): made from vegetable oil-containing feedstock
  • Fischer-Tropsch Synthetic Paraffinic Kerosene (FT-SPK)
  • Fischer-Tropsch Synthetic Kerosene with Aromatics

R&D and demonstration on sustainable advanced biofuels for aviation

British Airways GreenSky project shelved, citing lack of government support

On 6 January 2016, British Airways announced that it has been forced to shelve its GreenSky project to create 16m gallons of jet fuel from waste every year, partly due to a lack of government support [Source: The Guardian, UK]. British Airways planned to use 600,000 tonnes of MSW (collected in London) to produce over 50000 tonnes of biojet fuel and 50000 tonnes of biodiesel annually. The GreenSky project was to have used Solena's Plasma Gasification (SPG) technology, which can process 20-50% more waste than conventional gasification technologies, and Velocys technology for production of the jet fuel.

Fulcrum Bioenergy Sierra Biofuels Plant

In May 2015, Fulcrum Bioenergy Inc., announced it has awarded a $200m engineering, procurement and construction (EPC) contract to Abengoa for the construction of the 10 MMgy Sierra BioFuels facility to convert MSW into syngas, followed by a Fischer Tropsch step to create second generation biodiesel and bio jet fuel.

In September 2014, Fulcrum Bioenergy announced a $105m 'Biorefinery Assistance Program' loan guarantee from the USDA, as well as a $70 million grant under the US DoD Defense Protection Act, which will support development. The Sierra BioFuels Plant will include a Feedstock Processing Facility and a Biorefinery that will convert approximately 200,000 tons of prepared MSW feedstock into more than 10 million gallons of SPK jet fuel or diesel annually. In Summer 2014, Cathay Pacific Airways announced that it is investing in Fulcrum Bioenergy Inc., the parent company of Fulcrum Sierra BioFuels, LLC, and has negotiated a long-term supply agreement with Fulcrum for 375 million gallons of sustainable aviation fuel over 10 years. This would represent about 2% of the airline's annual fuel consumption. [Source: Fulcrum Bioenergy website & USDA Press Release].

See also the BtL page for additional information.

Lufthansa collaborations on developing aviation biofuels

In April 2014, Lufthansa made an agreement to evaluate alcohol-to-jet fuel (ATJ) produced by Gevo, using isobutanol.

In September 2012 Lufthansa signed a collaboration agreement with Algae.Tec Ltd. for an industrial-scale algae to aviation fuel production facility in Europe.

Neste Oil and Lufthansa test flights

Image © Neste Oil: Over 1000 flights have been made by Lufthansa using a blend of Neste Oil "NexBTL"

Neste Oil has also carried out pioneering work with Lufthansa in the area of aviation biofuels. Neste Oil’s "NexBTL renewable aviation fuel" was used on a total of 1,187 flights between Frankfurt and Hamburg during a six-month trial. The trial concluded in January 2012 with an intercontinental flight, flown as a regular scheduled service, between Frankfurt and Washington D.C. Lufthansa and Neste Oil presented the results of the trial at their joint stand at International Green Week in Berlin. [Source: NesteOil].

The co-operation and technical trials are set to continue, and Lufthansa will now focus on the sustainability, availability, and certification of raw materials. 

Petrixo / Honeywell biorefinery planned for UAE

In July 2014, Petrixo Oil & Gas (Dubai) announced that it would use Honeywell UOP technology (based on hydrogenation of fats and oils) to produce biojet fuel and biodiesel at an $800m biorefinery planned for the UAE. The refinery would process around 500,000 tonnes of feedstock.

US DoD Advanced Drop-In Biofuels Production Project

In May 2013, the US Department of Defense invested $16m with three companies to support facilities for production of bio jet fuels for fighter jets and destroyers by 2016, as part of the Advanced Drop-In Biofuels Production Project (Defence Production Act). The recipients of the funding were Fulcrum Brighton Biofuels LLC, Emerald Biofuels LLC, and Natures BioReserve LLC.

ARA / Blue Sun Energy renewable jet fuel demonsration

In January 2013, ARA and Blue Sun Energy Inc signed an ageement for the design, construction, and operation of a Biofuels ISOCONVERSION™ Process (BIC) demonstration system using the ARA and Chevron Lummus Global process for the production of certification quantities of 100% drop-in renewable jet, diesel, and gasoline. The Biofuels ISOCONVERSION™ process includes patented Catalytic Hydrothermolysis (CH) reactor technology, developed by Applied Research Associates (ARA), which utilizes water as a catalyst to quickly and inexpensively convert plant and algal oils into stable intermediate oil products, which are very similar to petroleum crude oil.  The intermediate oils are processed with hydrogen using CLG’s ISOCONVERSION™ catalysts to produce renewable jet fuel and diesel. The resulting fuels contain high-density aromatic, cycloparaffin, and isoparaffin hydrocarbons. See also ReadiFuels website for further information. In October 2012, Aemetis signed a technology licence agreement with Chevron Lummus Global for the production of fungible renewable biojet and diesel fuel.

LanzaTech / Swedish Biofuels

LanzaTech, New Zealand, has developed a method for capturing carbon-rich waste gases from industrial steel production, which are then fermented and chemically converted for use as a jet fuel using microbes (developed vis synthetic biology). The technology is being used in conjunction with Swedish Biofuels AB advanced processes for the conversion of alcohols into drop-in jet fuels. Under a project funded by the U.S. Government Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), Swedish Biofuels AB have produced a jet fuel prototype, 100% biological, SB-JP-8, equivalent to petroleum based JP-8.

Other RTD and demo activities

In March 2012 it was announced that Albermale would manufacture biojet fuel from butanol, provided by Cobalt, using NAWCWD's alcohol to jet technology.

In April 2012 Agrisoma Biosciences announced that Resonance™ (Brassica carianata) will be evaluated as a feedstock for Honeywell Green Jet Fuel™.

Aliphajet has developed a catalytic process for producing jet fuel and other biofuels from plant oils or animal fats, and in July 2012 joined the Advanced Biofuels Association (ABFA).

EADS has partnered with IGV GmbH on the use of algae-based biofuels in aviation. An IGV photobioreactor, which multiplies microalgae, was also exhibited at the Berlin Air Show. In 2012, IGV GmbH signed a contract with Bioalgostral SAS (BAO) for the delivery and establishment of an industrial plant for the production of biofuels from microalgae with a total volume of 82000 L [Source: IGV].

In May 2008, Airbus teamed with Honeywell Aerospace; UOP, a Honeywell Company; International Aero Engines (IAE); and JetBlue Airways to pursue development of a sustainable second-generation biofuel for use in commercial aircraft. Green Jet Fuel produced using Honeywell’s UOP Renewable Jet Fuel process powered the first commercial flight operating with renewable jet fuel in Columbia in 2013. Made from the UOP Renewable Jet Fuel Process™, Honeywell Green Jet Fuel meets or exceeds the most rigorous jet fuel standards for performance, and can be made from a variety of sustainable feedstocks.

Honeywell Green Jet Fuel can be blended in a 50/50 ratio with petroleum-based jet fuel and it offers significant advantages over petroleum jet fuel:

  • Can reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 65-85% compared with petroleum-based fuels, based on UOP’s lifecycle analysis.
  • Has shown higher energy density in flight, which allows aircraft to fly farther on less fuel
  • Meets or exceeds critical jet fuel specifications, such as: flash point, freeze point, stability and heat of combustion
  • Drop-in replacement fuel that requires no changes to aircraft technology or fuel infrastructure

In August 2008, The world's first algal based jet fuel was produced by Solazyme. It passed the most critical ASTM D1655 specification tests.

In January 2009, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) awarded Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC) a $25m contract to develop an integrated process for developing Jet Fuel (JP-8 replacement) from algae.

A 100% renewable jet fuel produced by the Energy & Environmental Research Center (EERC), University of North Dakota, under a $4m contract with DARPA has been tested by the AFRL and met JP-8 specification criteria.

Arizona State University Laboratory for Algae Research & Biotechnology, Heliae Development, LLC and Science Foundation Arizona are also collaborating in the development of kerosene-based jet fuel derived from algae.

The Virent BioForming® Process for catalytic conversion of plant sugars into liquid hydrocarbon fuels could also potentially be used to produce jet fuel from sustainable feedstocks.

Recent demonstration flights with bio jet fuel

On 31 March 2016, KLM Royal Dutch Airlines launched a series of around 80 biofuel flights from Oslo to Amsterdam operated with an EMBRAER 190. The remaining flights will be operated over the following period of five to six weeks, marking yet another step in the right direction towards making aviation more sustainable. Embraer will be conducting measurements during these flights to gauge the efficiency of biofuel in comparison with kerosene.

In May 2015, Gevo Inc. announced it has signed a strategic alliance agreement with Alaska Airlines to purchase Gevo's renewable jet fuel and fly the first-ever commercial flight on alcohol-to-jet fuel (ATJ). The demonstration flight is expected to occur after Gevo receives ASTM International certification for its fuel, sometime in mid to late 2015.

to purchase Gevo's renewable jet fuel Test flights of advanced biojet fuel have continue globally in 2013. In August, LAN Colombia successfully completed a flight using a blend of jet fuel derived from Camelina in an Aibus A320.

In June 2012, Air Canada flew its first flight using biofuels (from recycled cooking oil supplied by SkyNRG). The flight from Toronto to Mexico City, supported by Airbus, coincided with the G20 meeting. On 19 June 2012, Azul Brazilian Airlines, completed a demonstration flight using jet fuel produced from sugarcane using Amyris technology.

In April 2012 Porter Airlines, All Nippon Airways and Qantas all carried out successful demonstration flights using biojet fuel.

In March 2012 Airbus, Boeing and Embraer signed a collaboration agreement to accelerate the commercialization of sustainable biojet fuel.

The Dutch airline KLM planned to use 50% biokerosene derived from recycled cooking oil (collected in the EU and refined in the US) on 200 flights between Paris and Amsterdam, starting in Autumn 2011.

© Copyright Thomson Airways
Thomson Airways passenger plane being fuelled with sustainable avaiation biofuel View at larger size >>

On 6 October 2011 a Boeing 757-200 operated by Thomson Airways carried 232 passengers from Birmingham Airport, UK to Arrecife, using a sustainable biofuels blend in one engine. The biofuel was supplied by SkyNRG, Netherlands, who is advised by an independent Sustainability Board consisting of two leading NGOs and a leading Government scientific institute. For Thomson Airways, SkyNRG partners with US refiner Dynamic Fuels and uses Used Cooking Oil as a feedstock.

The flight illustrates the potential for further use of aviation biofuels, in combination with improved efficiency, to reduce emissions from aviation and reduce dependence on fossil fuels. The challenge now facing the airline industry is to source commercial quantities of sustainable biojet fuels.

Virgin Biofuel Test Flight

© Copyright Boeing
A Virgin Atlantic 747-400 prepares for take-off from London Heathrow to Amsterdam using a sustainable biofuel blend composed of babassu and coconut oils blended with kerosene-based jet fuel. Boeing partnered with GE, Imperium Renewables and Virgin Atlantic to conduct the first commercial flight using sustainable biofuels as part of its efforts to guide the industry toward fuels that have a low-carbon-lifecycle footprint to help reduce impacts to climate change

 

In June 2010, the first flight by an airplane using 100% algal biofuels was demonstrated by EADS at the Berlin Air Show. The microalgae oil was produced by Biocombustibles del Chubut S.A. at its plant in Puerto Madryn, Argentina, and then refined and converted into biofuel by VTS Verfahrenstechnik Schwedt in Germany.

Details of some previous demonstration flights are included below.

ACCESS II: Testing of atmospheric emissions from jet engines using alternative fuels

NASA has signed separate agreements with the German Aerospace Center (DLR) and the National Research Council of Canada (NRC) to conduct a series of joint flight tests to study the atmospheric effects of emissions from jet engines burning alternative fuels. The Alternative Fuel Effects on Contrails and Cruise Emissions (ACCESS II) flights are set to begin 7 May 2014 and will be flown from NASA's Armstrong Flight Research Center in Edwards, California.

Previous Demonstration flights using biofuels

Below are details of some earlier test flights of biofuels. In 2010/2011 testing was carried out in a number of different planes with various bio jet fuel blends, and several airlines and their partners are now investigating production of aviation biofuels on the commercial scale.

In Spring 2011, Interjet and Airbus conducted the first jatropha-based biofuel test flight in Mexico. An The Airbus 320 jet successfully flew from Mexico City International Airport to Angel Albino Corzo of Tuxtla Gutierrez airport in the southern State of Chiapas. One of the aircraft’s two engines was fuelled with a 30 percent blend of biojet fuel by Honeywell UOP.

In June 2010, the first flight by an airplane using algal biofuels was demonstarted by EADS at the Berlin Air Show. EADS has partnered with IGV GmbH in the development of algae-based biofuels. An IGV photobioreactor, which multiplies microalgae, was also exhibited at the Berlin Air Show.

In February 2008, Virgin Atlantic carried out a test flight of a Boeing 747 Jumbo from London to Amsterdam with a 20% blend of coconut and babassu oil in one of the aircraft's fuel tanks. However, at that time, the company had no immediate plans to use similar mixtures in commercial flights.

Also in February 2008, an Airbus A380 used a 40% blend of GTL (gas to Liquid) in a flight from Bristol to Toulose, paving the way for future use of BTL. "Analysis of data from the A380’s historic flight powered by an alternative fuel derived from gas (GTL) has shown that use of the GTL blend had no adverse impact on the engine, aircraft systems or materials, and that it behaved like conventional kerosene."

In December 2008, a blend of 2nd Generation biofuel from Jatropha was used in one Rolls Royce engine for a two hour test flight of an Air New Zealand Boeing 747-400 - Find out more.

Bio-Derived Synthetic Paraffinic Kerosene (Bio-SPK) has been used by Boeing in flight tests of several different aircraft between 2006 and 2009. Performance was as good as (or better than) Jet A fuel. As its next step, Boeing, in cooperation with UOP and the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory, is preparing a comprehensive research report for submission to the ASTM International Aviation Fuel Committee later in 2016. The report will support efforts to gain approval to use Bio-SPK fuel at up to a 50 percent blend in support of industry goals to accelerate availability and use. 

In January 2009, Japan Airlines (JAL) used a 50:50 blend of Jet A fuel and 2nd generation synthetic kerosene, mainly produced from Camelina, in one Pratt & Whitney engine of a Boeing 747-300.
View JAL press release

 

Biofuels in Aviation - Older Studies and Reports

A 2003 study by Imperial College - The Potential for Renewable Energy Sources in Aviation - investigated renewable alternatives to kerosene, the fuel currently used by jet aircraft. This concluded that bioethanol cannot be used for air transport due to its low energy density, and because it doesn't combust effectively in 'thin air' at high altitude. The Imperial study also concluded that methanol and biogas are unsuitable for air transport for both technical and safety reasons. However, hydrogen, Fischer-Tropsch (FT) kerosene and biodiesel could all theoretically be used in aviation.

More recently, research has focued on production of 'bio jet oil' via a number of novel routes such as catalytic pyrolysis / refining and catalysis of plant sugars.

The 2007 report Alternative Technology Options for Road and Air Transport published by ETAG (European Technology Assessment Group) for the European Parliament, suggested that due to tighter operational and safety criteria for novel aviation fuels, biofuels will predominantly be used in the road transport sector for the forseeable future. However, this assessment was made before the successful test flights of Boeing and AIRBUS aircraft, and the landmark ASTM Aviation Fuel Subcommittee decision to establish a specification for synthetic aviation fuels.

The establishment of SAFUG and increasing investments in biojet fuel R&D indicate that biofuels are now most definitely on the radar of major airlines.

The ICAO Workshop on Aviation and Alternative Fuels (WAAF) held on 10-12 February 2009 included 30 presentations, with several covering use of biofuels.

In the UK, the Sustainable Aviation strategy group brings together researchers, airlines and other stakeholders contributing to a number of key documents proposing a way forward for sustainabile air travel.

In July 2009, a research summary was published by Policy Exchange, UK entitled Green Skies Thinking - promoting the development and commercialisation of sustainable jet fuels

Boesing lab test of biofuels

© Copyright Boeing
A Boeing lab technician conducts automated freeze-point testing on jet fuel samples at the Boeing Commercial Airplanes Fuels and Lubricants Test Laboratory in Seattle. Boeing is exploring second-generation biofuel testing to identify renewable alternative fuel sources for aviation uses as part of the company's environmental initiative.