Finnair postpones early plans to use jet biofuel on commercial flights citing sustainability and price issues
Thu 3 Feb 2010 – Finnair has pulled out of plans to introduce jet biofuels on commercial flights. The airline hoped to be amongst the first early adopters following an approval for the use of Bio-SPK fuels expected within the next few months. It says there were issues concerning the sustainability and cost of the fuel, along with supply chain challenges, which was to be produced and supplied by fellow Finnish company Neste Oil. Last week, Neste Oil received a “shame award” from Greenpeace although Finnair deny this influenced its decision. Neste is one of the world’s largest users of ‘certified’ palm oil, which it uses in its NExBTL renewable diesel. Lufthansa says it will continue with preparations to use NExBTL jet fuel on flights between Frankfurt and Hamburg this spring. Meanwhile, Finnair has just relaunched its corporate responsibility web pages to project its image as an ethical and environmentally conscious airline.
Although neither Finnair nor Neste would specify the biomass to be used in the jet fuel, the airline says it has an issue with the overall sustainability of vegetable oils and the “available biomass potential”.
“The price of the fuel and its sustainability measured against all criteria is not at the level we would have gone into at this point. There are various research projects in progress, and it is in our interests to use a fuel produced from local raw materials,” Finnair’s Vice President Sustainable Development Kati Ihamäki told Helsingin Sanomat newspaper.
Coincidence or not, Neste Oil last week received an unwelcome award announced during the World Economic Forum in Davos from environmental group Greenpeace and Swiss NGO the Berne Declaration over its production of diesel fuel from palm oil. The Public Eye People’s Award went to Neste for the second year running, being voted considerably ahead of disgraced oil giant BP and cigarette manufacturer Philip Morris in a web poll. The award is intended to denounce “the particularly flagrant human rights abuses and environmental sins committed by corporations”.
Greenpeace says Neste’s demand for palm oil fuels contributes to rain forest destruction in south-east Asia and endangering further the orangutan. Neste responded to the “shame award” by saying it only buys palm oil produced according to sustainable principles with a verifiable origin.
Despite being singled out in a Greenpeace statement on the award, Finnair deny the publicity had influenced its decision.
“We still have a working relationship with Neste and are also searching for future potential cooperation agreements with them and other parties,” Ihamäki told GreenAir Online.
A possible source of local biomass for jet fuels is logging waste from home forests and Neste is investigating the use of wood biomass at its demonstration plant in Varkaus. Neste Oil’s and Stora Enso’s joint venture NSE Biofuels is to commence environmental impact assessments for a commercial-scale bio-refinery at Porvoo and at Imatra in Finland. The two locations are seen as potential alternative sites for a unit capable of producing approximately 200,000 tonnes of premium-quality renewable diesel per year from wood biomass. Neste says an investment of €500 million would be required for a full-scale commercial production plant.
In September, Finnair joined an industry consortium called the Sustainable Use of Renewable Fuels (SURF) that is taking part in a project set up by the UK’s Cranfield University to investigate the viability of developing salt-water grown algae for use as jet biofuel (see story).
Lufthansa confirmed it still plans to test Neste Oil’s jet biofuel on commercial flights between Frankfurt and Hamburg after Bio-SPK certification has been passed by international fuel standards body ASTM, possibly this spring.
“Biofuel is a sensitive issue – we know this well,” a Lufthansa spokesman told GreenAir Online. “Our fuel is sustainable and no rain forest will be deforested in order to produce our fuel. In the procurement of biofuel, we ensure it originates from a sustainable supply and production process. Our licensed suppliers must provide proof of sustainability.”
He said alternatives for conventional kerosene must be found and it was important to gain experience from testing various fuels, including jatropha.
“All in all, our goal must be to achieve a positive environmental balance. Of course, after every finding and result, there is the chance to make corrections on technological, ecological and economic issues. That’s the nature of a test.”
Last week, Finnair re-launched its corporate responsibility web pages to show what the airline describes as “a fresh and creative way how an airline can be a responsible actor in society and what actions and decisions a passenger can take to travel responsibly and reduce travel-related emissions.”
Said Kati Ihamäki: “Finnair wants to be the first choice for quality- and environmentally-conscious travellers. Airlines maintain a highly visible role in society, so we need to lead the way in terms of responsibility.”
Following an overall cut of 22% in carbon emissions from 1999-2009, the airline is aiming to reduce emissions between 2009 and 2017 by 24%, with a per seat reduction of 41% between 1999 and 2017.