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Germany and the US strengthen ties to develop alternative aviation fuels with intergovernmental agreement

Germany and the US strengthen ties to develop alternative aviation fuels with intergovernmental agreement  | aireg,CAAFI

German Federal Minister of Transport Dr Peter Ramsauer (left) and US Ambassador Philip D. Murphy ink agreement (photo: aireg)

Fri 14 Sept 2012 – The German and United States governments this week signed an agreement to cooperate on further development of alternative aviation fuels. The agreement will focus on harmonising sustainability standards, working towards approval for new processes, expanding the availability of raw materials and commercialisation. It will also strengthen the growing relationship between the Commercial Aviation Alternative Fuels Initiative (CAAFI), the US industry, research and government agency coalition, and its German equivalent aireg. Joachim Buse, aireg Vice-President and responsible for Lufthansa’s biofuel programme, said an aim of aireg was to see sustainable biofuel making up 10 per cent of total jet fuel consumption in Germany by 2025. The signing took place at the ILA Berlin Air Show, where aireg and CAAFI held a high-ranking conference to discuss the future of alternative aviation fuels.

“Our two nations agree that aviation has to make an essential contribution to more climate protection and more energy efficiency,” said Dr Peter Ramsauer, the German Federal Minister of Transport, at the agreement signing ceremony. The industry target of halving carbon emissions by 2050 was extremely ambitious, he said, but air transport was a global sector and the agreement would serve as an example for other governments in the world to follow.

“With the US-German intergovernmental agreement, we aim to make research and development in alternative aviation fuels even more dynamic,” he added. “This provides us with a good framework within which forward-looking solutions can be discussed.”

The US ambassador to Germany, Philip Murphy, said the agreement and others that had been previously signed with Australia and Brazil would facilitate a technological exchange that would be an asset to the airline industry around the world.

“The US is committed to making aviation as clean and as energy efficient as possible as part of our NextGen air traffic modernisation goals,” he said. “Clean alternative fuels that can be used in existing aircraft are one of the best near-term tools to that end. They can help address some of the challenges that commercial aviation faces today, namely environmental impacts, fuel costs and energy security. The aerospace industry has often led the way in technical innovation and through initiatives like this, it is doing it again. Working with German and other partners to develop sustainable alternative jet fuels offers broad opportunities for aerospace to team with agriculture and energy to find solutions to the environmental challenges the world faces.”

Richard Altman, Executive Director of CAAFI, said cooperation between his organisation and German colleagues had been ongoing for six years, with strong existing partnerships already in place at many levels, and the formal agreement “is not the beginning but the end of the beginning and the real work begins for us.”

He said the agreement contained 19 elements covering many areas, from feedstocks to qualification processes to financing. There were no longer the resources to carry out all the necessary work in one single country but it was important to work together to ensure there was no overlaps or gaps left uncovered, he added.

The CAAFI and aireg relationship, said Altman, would serve as a model and template for the development and deployment of alternative sustainable aviation fuels in the rest of the world.

Setting out the goals of the agreement, Joachim Buse said that with different sustainability standards applying around the world, the harmonisation of standards between Europe and the United States was an important issue until a global standard could be agreed. He pointed out that biomass produced by a US farmer under the US RFS standard would currently not be accepted within the EU as a sustainable food crop, and the same would apply in the other direction.

Another concern was the need for certification and approval of new feedstocks as other sources of biomass would need to be found for aviation purposes, particularly as Germany was not in a position to grow its own. Intergovernmental agreements on biomass supply, he said, would be needed to help this process.

“The signing of this agreement will not just have an impact at our level of cooperation but also relations at government level and that is a very important concern of ours,” said Buse. “We’re not trying to get an advantage for aviation compared to other modes of transport but we wish to ensure that biomass and biofuels are available for use by airlines.”

Buse said the goal for aireg airline members to be using 10% biokerosene in all jet fuel by 2025 would also require at least one second-generation biorefinery in Germany to produce synthetic fuel for airlines.

“We assume that the majority of raw materials required to fulfil our goal will come from outside of Germany. To make this work, both the raw materials suppliers and processors need reliable framework conditions.”

Second generation jet biofuels were still considerably more expensive than conventional and historically reliable Jet-A fuel, he added, and cooperation throughout the value chain, as well as government support at national and EU level was required to make them cost competitive. “We need start-up financing that allows us to build a bridge from small-scale to large-scale production so that we can benefit from the scaling-up effect. We do not advocate permanent subsidies but we want useful, systematic and directed support for a start so that aviation in Germany – not just aireg members but all airlines refuelling in Germany – is able to purchase jet biofuel at competitive prices.”

Aireg says it costs around $2,100 to produce one tonne of biokerosene compared to $925 for a tonne of fossil kerosene and is pushing for funding instruments such as investment grants for biorefineries or state price guarantees to ensure purchases of jet biofuel. Buse added that a national development plan for alternative aviation fuels was required which included concrete dates and targets.

CAAFI’s Altman said current US projections suggested sustainable aviation biofuels derived from some processes could achieve cost parity with conventional fossil fuel by 2017.

Both Buse and Altman said they would welcome similar cooperation agreements with other countries and help build towards a common global solution. “Aireg already has international members such as Neste and Total, so it’s not limited to German companies,” said Buse. “We are happy to work with other initiatives wherever they are, as long as they have the same goals.”

Added Altman: “CAAFI too has 15 to 18 companies from all continents. Our idea is to build templates of cooperation in various areas as we have done in Australia and Brazil, and to globalise as soon as it becomes practical but not from a purely policy perspective but building up from a ‘doing’ perspective so we actually have solutions.”

Speaking at the aireg/CAAFI conference on Wednesday (12th), Matthias Ruete, the European Commission’s transport Director-General, said as part of the EU Biofuels Flightpath initiative – which is aiming to achieve an annual production of two million tonnes of sustainably produced biofuel for aviation by 2020 – it would be necessary to build international partnerships.

“We have always looked across the Atlantic with envy as our US friends have organised themselves much earlier and I very much welcome that Germany, through aireg, has formed a stable cooperation partnership,” he told delegates. “We need to make sure we get other partners involved in this. I was pleased to hear that cooperation with Russia was developing in the field of alternative aviation fuels.”

He said a case was being made within the Commission for additional funding for alternative fuels but the debate would not be easy given spending constraints. However, by the end of the year he anticipated budgets for the period 2014-20 would be agreed that would be based on jobs and growth. “I hope we will be able to create the necessary space in order that we can guarantee the Biofuels Flightpath will be part of this programme.”

EADS and former Airbus CEO Tom Enders told the conference: “No-one would have believed aviation biofuels would have developed at such a pace within only a few years.” However, it was necessary to push for large-scale production of such fuels that would require the commitment, involvement and investment of key stakeholders beyond the industry, he said.

“Governments need to ensure policies and incentives are in place and venture capital is available for financing research and infrastructure towards the transition to large-scale production.

“We will be able to achieve many things in aviation within a few years that seem unthinkable today if clear decisions are made and if the right political course is set now. Alternative aviation fuels are only at the beginning of their development. Many things are possible if policymakers, the industry and science strengthen their cooperation to shape the future of alternative fuels.”


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