Aquaflow's algae ponds (Photo: Kirsten Rodsgaard-Mathiesen)
Fri 31 Oct 2008 – Boeing’s Director of Environmental Strategy, Darrin Morgan, told The Guardian newspaper that biofuels will be approved for commercial use by airlines within three to five years, sooner than previously thought possible. The biggest barrier to mass use of biofuels, he said, is the availability of enough biomass material to satisfy the industry’s needs. Meanwhile, the Boeing-led Algal Biomass Organization (ABO) held its annual Algae Biomass Summit in Seattle last week, featuring presentations focusing on the role of algae in addressing growing global energy needs.
Morgan told The Guardian he was expecting biofuel certification “in the near future”, much sooner than had previously been thought possible. “We are thinking that within three to five years we are going to see approval for commercial use of biofuels – and possibly sooner.”
According to the ABO, more than 700 delegates attended the two-day Seattle conference. “Whether for use in commercial aviation or transportation, we’ve seen this week that algae-based biofuels will have a role to play,” said Billy Glover, Managing Director of Environmental Strategy for Boeing Commercial Airplanes and co-chair (with Darrin Morgan) of the ABO. “The success of this year’s conference was due to the powerful blend of leaders from science, finance and business, coming together to discuss real solutions utilizing algae.”
A commercial aviation session, co-moderated by Glover and Sebastien Remy from rival aircraft manufacturer Airbus, saw presentations from KLM, General Atomics and UOP.
UOP, a Honeywell Company active in developing alternative aviation jet fuels, is reported to have signed a Memorandum of Understanding with New Zealand-based Aquaflow Bionomic Corporation. UOP will supply its processing technology to produce algal-based fuels from Aquaflow’s algae ponds. UOP and Air New Zealand are both active members of the ABO and also the Sustainable Aviation Fuel Users Group that was set up last month (see story). Air New Zealand is due to carry out a test flight before the end of the year using a jet biofuel derived from the jatropha curcas plant, blended with traditional jet kerosene.
However, in a letter to The Guardian this week, David Walker, Emeritus Professor at the UK’s University of Sheffield, expressed his pessimism over the potential of algae as a transport fuel.
“There is no credible evidence that algae photosynthesize faster, or are currently able to accumulate substantially more biomass, during a period of sustained growth than other green organisms. Intensive agriculture of any sort rarely uses less fossil fuel energy than the light energy that it conserves as biomass. Biofuels do not lead to any appreciable sparing of carbon dioxide emissions that could not be better accomplished by the most modest means of energy conservation, such as a small reduction of the legal speed limit on motorways.”
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