Fri 20 Nov 2015 – In conjunction with its annual Aviation Fuel Forum, IATA recently held the 1st Alternative Fuel Symposium in Cancún, Mexico. Around 80 participants from the aviation and the alternative fuel sector, as well as from traditional oil companies, came together for this first-of-its-kind event, reports IATA’s Thomas Roetger. In contrast to the already numerous conferences covering aviation biofuels, he writes, the symposium had a clear focus on directly bringing together airline customers and alternative fuel suppliers with each other and also with business facilitators helping to remove the remaining barriers to alternative jet fuel deployment. Over 20 international leaders and experts in the field of alternative aviation fuels presented and discussed views and shared case studies.
Aline Pillan from the French Civil Aviation Authority stressed the importance of sustainable fuels for meeting aviation’s carbon reduction targets in the light of the upcoming UN Climate Change Conference in Paris, starting at the end of this month, and the ICAO Assembly in 2016. Steve Csonka from the Commercial Aviation Alternative Fuel Initiative (CAAFI) highlighted the variety of alternative jet fuel production pathways, which can improve the chances of finding economically viable feedstock options for each world region. Currently there are 16 new pathways in the certification process adding to the three that are already certified for commercial flight use, he said.
A wide scope of fuel options were presented at the symposium, ranging from Fulcrum’s municipal waste-based fuel, which will start to be supplied to United Airlines and Cathay Pacific in the next years in quantities of over 100 million gallons per year, to a new process developed by Joule Unlimited based on sunlight-absorbing bacteria, which could make use of the large unused areas of desert regions.
Biofuel delivery to Los Angeles International Airport as a result of the long-term offtake agreement between United Airlines and AltAir is in its final preparation phase and planned to start before the end of 2015, delegates were told. The prospect of commercial success, along with a strong positive impact of biofuel production on social sustainability and rural development, is likely to be achieved through South African Airways’ Solaris project, whose objective is jet fuel production from energy tobacco plants. This project, said a representative, fitted perfectly into South Africa’s development goals by creating new livelihoods for smallholder farmers.
It was stressed by speakers that alternative jet fuel deployment is a highly interdisciplinary business that strongly relies on multi-stakeholder partnerships at national and global level beyond just suppliers and customers. Both the big aircraft manufacturers, Airbus and Boeing, are now engaged with many airlines and governments across the world to support building up local supply chains. The EU-funded ITAKA project is investigating the challenges of production, logistics and sustainability, and aims to build up and test an airport biofuel supply chain.
To bridge the ‘valley of death’ that alternative jet fuels – like many young technologies – are facing, unconventional ideas are necessary. One novel concept covered at the symposium was SkyNRG’s Fly Green Fund, which allows environmentally conscious corporate air travel customers to invest in sustainable fuels and so help overcome the prohibitive price gap with fossil fuel. Similarly, the Carbon War Room, founded by Sir Richard Branson, promoted a more active role of airports as supply centres for biofuels.
The symposium spotlighted the high level of dedication of the aviation alternative fuel community in overcoming obstacles to make deployment happen. An update on developments and more case studies are expected at the second Alternative Fuel Symposium, which is now intended to be held every year.
Thomas Roetger is IATA’s Assistant Director, Aviation Environment - Technology
Robert Boyd, IATA's Biofuel Deployment Project Manager (left) and speakers at the symposium:
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