Aviation Jetfuel Industry
Aviation Biofuels are the “hottest topic” in the biofuels field today. The aviation industry produces around 2% of the world’s manmade emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2), according to the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). However, the industry is committed to reduce its environmental impact through new technologies, operational efficiency, infrastructure improvements and economic measures.
One area on which the industry is focused is the partial substitution of fossil fuel with Biofuels in order to reduce CO2 emission levels by 50% by 2050 by the use of sustainable Biofuels to replace the standard kerosene, or Jet-A, fuel that is currently being used. It is clear that the industry’s dependence on fossil fuels in not sustainable, and that with innovation, future generations of Biofuels for aviation can and will be developed in a sustainable manner. Recent research shows that next-generation Biofuels can be a viable energy source for aviation, and the industry expects that in the near future Biofuels can be mass-produced at a low cost and high yield with minimal negative environmental impacts, Importantly, the aviation industry is committed to exploring the use of Biofuels that in no way compete for land or water with food supplies, which has been an issue in other sectors.
Currently, the industry is focused on producing Biofuels from sustainable sources that will enable the fuel to be ‘dropped in‘ to Jet-A1 – in other words, blending Biofuel with fossil fuel until enough Biofuel can be produced to fully supply the industry. Drop-in fuels are combined with the petroleum-based fuel either as a blend or as a 100% replacement. Any Biofuel used in aircraft would also have to be able to operate at high temperatures, have a low freeze point and be cost-competitive with petroleum-based jet fuel. This is important to ensure that manufacturers do not have to redesign engines or aircraft and that airlines and airports do not have to develop new fuel delivery systems.
Some first-generation Biofuels, such as Biodiesel and ethanol, are not suitable fuels for powering commercial aircraft. Many of these fuels do not meet the high performance or safety specifications for jet fuel.
The second-generation Biofuels currently under advanced development for aviation – such as algae, Camelina and Jatropha – are fast growing, non-food crops that do not take up land that would be used for food production. In fact, all of these potential feedstocks can be cultivated on marginal land, with much lower requirements for fresh water.
Jatropha oil is an excellent candidate for use in aviation, as after refining it has almost exactly the same chemical properties as the Jet-A1 fuel that currently powers the commercial airliners. This means that it can be ‘dropped-in’ to the existing fuel supplies. The industry will then be able to use the existing infrastructure (pipelines, tankers, engines, etc) and gradually increase the mix of Biofuel as increasing supplies of Jatropha oil become available.
Now that BioFuels for aviation are a confirmed viable option and the certification process is underway, one of the biggest challenges is the cultivation of the required quantity of feedstock. The worldwide aviation industry consumes some 1.5 to 1.7 billion barrels of Jet-A1 annually (about 250 billion litres, or 70 billion gallons). Analysis suggests that a viable market for Biofuels can be maintained when as little as 1% of world jet fuel supply is substituted by a Biofuel.
The aviation industry is committed to sustainable Biofuels use in commercial flights to become a reality in three to five years and a significant supply of Biofuel in the jet fuel mix should be a reality before 2020. It is now up to dedicated stakeholders across the aviation sector, with help from governments, biomass and fuel suppliers to ensure that the low-carbon, bio-fuelled future for sustainable flight becomes a reality.