Rainer Ohler, Airbus Senior Vice President Public Affairs & Communication
Wed 27 Jan 2010 – Senior representatives from Airbus and Boeing have said they will cooperate on pushing forward the development and commercialization of new generation sustainable biofuels. Airbus Senior Vice President Public Affairs & Communication Rainer Ohler said the two rival aircraft manufacturers needed to work together on developing green strategies and there was no other option but to use aviation biofuels if the industry’s climate change targets were to be met. Ohler was speaking at an event to commemorate the first visit of the Airbus A380 superjumbo to Geneva Airport. He said the aircraft was designed with the environment in mind and represented a new generation of eco-efficient airliners.
IATA CEO and Director General Giovanni Bisignani said one of the biggest challenges facing the industry, apart from security, was the environment and the A380 had an enormous role to play in reducing aviation’s impact. “It is also a symbol of what this industry can achieve using technology and innovation.”
There are fundamental environmental concerns in the outside world, said Ohler, and the industry had to tackle the issue together.
“We say the A380 is the most eco-efficient aircraft because it allows for growth and at the same time reduces the impact on the environment. It is the future,” he said. “At Airbus, we are delivering eco-efficient solutions at every stage of the process through a full life-cycle approach. For example, at the end of an aircraft’s life more than 80% of it can be recycled.”
The A380, with 25 aircraft delivered so far and 202 on order, is claimed to use less than three litres of fuel per 100km per passenger in a three-class, 525-seat configuration and less than two litres in an all-economy 853-seat layout. This translates into 17% less fuel burn per passenger, with corresponding savings in CO2 emissions. Airbus also claims the superjumbo is 50% less noisy than comparable aircraft.
Ohler said Airbus and Boeing were working together on air traffic management solutions and now biofuels. “Biofuels is a very important subject for our industry,” he said. “In five to 10 years, we believe biofuels will become available and we are calling upon lawmakers and regulators to make sure aviation gets enough of these fuels because we have no other alternative means of power for our aircraft. That’s why we are lobbying for aviation to be a preferred biofuel user in future.”
To date, Airbus has concentrated alternative fuel efforts on Fischer-Tropsch derived synthetic fuels, such as its collaboration with Qatar Airways that led to the first natural gas-to-liquid (GTL) commercial passenger flight undertaken last October (see story) following certification of such blended fuels. Last month, Airbus joined a Qatari-led consortium that aims to develop and produce sustainable biomass-to-liquid (BTL) jet fuels (see story).
Boeing has eschewed testing fossil-based synthetic fuels on the grounds that without carbon capture they have no CO2 reduction benefits, despite some other environmental benefits derived from being cleaner burning. However, Boeing Commercial Airplanes’ Managing Director of Environmental Strategy, Bill Glover, told GreenAir Online that he welcomed the progress Airbus had made on such fuels as it helped the industry’s development of alternative fuels in general and he confirmed the two plane makers would be cooperating in furthering the commercialization of sustainable biofuels.
Commented Ohler: “We are working together with Boeing through the Air Transport Action Group (ATAG) on this. Of course we continue to compete, but on this issue, like safety, we need to work together to find a solution and to support the introduction of biofuels into the fuel chain.”
However, he said, there was an issue concerning the availability of sufficient quantities of jet biofuels and he confirmed that the reason for the delayed first biofuel flight test planned with JetBlue Airways, first announced in May 2008, was a lack of supplies.
“We have a long list of airlines who would like to do a biofuel flight with us but the problem is the shortage of biofuels,” he said. “If they become available then we will do the flights.”
According to ATAG Executive Director Paul Steele, though, progress had been rapid. He said: “Three years ago, alternative fuels for aviation were just a dream. Today, they are a reality. And the area we are most excited about is biofuels. We are looking only at second and new generation biofuels that don’t compete with crops and fresh water and are grown only on marginal land. Of course, we have to get all those elements right so we are working closely with the Roundtable on Sustainable Biofuels to try and understand the sustainability criteria of those fuels as we move forward.”
He said it was important that all possible options were explored on types of feedstocks. “You can’t pick winners at this stage,” he said. “We don’t need to carry out lots of further test flights as we know what the performance criteria should be. The focus now is on scaleability, with pilot projects at industrial scale so that we can ramp up supply. There will be different approaches and sources of biomass and different configurations in different parts of the world.
“Through ATAG, we can build up a meaningful body of experience on biofuels and also bring people together to form coalitions and take our ideas forward. Looking forward, we will be lobbying governments and making them aware of the opportunity as well as the competition for biofuels. We don’t have the same choices that the automotive and other industries have so we must make sure we secure a biofuels future for aviation.”
He expected the recent coming together of airline groups in the US to sign future biofuel purchase agreements with suppliers to be repeated in Europe, perhaps this year. “It’s very important the end-users send a signal that there is a market,” he said. “It’s not just about price, it’s also about what it is doing for the environment and alternatives to traditional fossil jet fuel.”
Steele quoted a UK Climate Change Committee study carried out by E4tech that showed a worse-case scenario of a 40% replacement of existing jet fuel with biofuels by 2040, and a best-case scenario of 100% by 2035-7.
IATA has set a target of alternative fuels – both synthetic fuels and biofuels – making up 10% of the total jet requirement by 2017, although Steele said this was now under review “as things have moved on so fast”.
As an indicative figure, IATA believes that by 2020, 6% of total jet fuel supplies could be coming from biofuels, representing a 5% saving in the industry’s CO2 emissions. As this amounts to around 17 billion litres (around 4.5 billion US gallons), the market for jet biofuels – based on last month’s rising average jet fuel price of $2 per gallon – could amount to over $9 billion within 10 years.
“It is time for oil companies and governments to understand that this is a great opportunity and they should try to help the small biofuel entrepreneurs and speed up the process,” commented IATA’s Bisignani.
Airbus A380 in Geneva event: (from left to right) Rainer Ohler, Airbus Senior Vice President Public Affairs & Communication; Robert Deillon, Director General of Geneva International Airport; Giovanni Bisignani, IATA Director General & CEO; Paul Steele, ATAG Executive Director (top and bottom photos © Aeroport International de Genève - Etienne Delacrétaz)
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