Delay to certification of aviation jet biofuels may damage investor confidence, claims Lufthansa
Lufthansa Airbus A321 - the airline plans to use a 50/50 biofuel blend in one engine on flights between Hamburg and Frankfurt
Mon 14 Feb 2011 – The approval of Bio-SPK jet fuels for use in commercial aircraft operations is not now expected until the middle of the year at earliest and could possibly be delayed until the end of 2011, says the FAA representative on the ASTM International committee responsible for certifying the fuels. Approval had been expected by now but concerns were raised during an ASTM meeting in December, said to be made by an engine manufacturer, which will require further testing to be carried out. The delay has angered Lufthansa, Europe’s biggest airline, which planned this spring to become the first airline to introduce biofuel blended jet fuel on regular commercial passenger flights. A first shipment of jatropha jet biofuel was ready for delivery to Hamburg from Neste Oil’s Porvoo facility in Finland, said the airline.
Speaking at last week’s SWAFEA Synthesis Conference in Toulouse, France, Lufthansa’s VP Aviation Biofuel, Joachim Buse, said the airline was unhappy with the “idling” at ASTM. He said ASTM committee members should understand that there would be “collateral damage” as a result of the delay, with airlines wanting to move fast to reduce their CO2 emissions. Buse explained that Lufthansa was in discussions with financial institutions to encourage investment in aviation biofuels but he believed the hold-up could put doubts in their minds and choose instead to make green investments elsewhere.
Lufthansa is aiming for biofuels to make up 10% of its overall fuel consumption by 2020. “I recommend that ASTM have a look at their procedures,” said Buse. “We have to move fast – it’s not just Lufthansa, it’s the entire industry that is affected, and ASTM has a responsibility in this respect.”
Buse told GreenAir Online that Lufthansa was taking an initial 200 tonnes of jatropha-based jet fuel from Neste Oil that had been sourced from Indonesia, having been assured the biomass met vigorous sustainability criteria. The fuel was in the process of being shipped to the port of Hamburg where it was to be blended 50/50 with jet kerosene and stored at Hamburg Airport ready for single-engine use on passenger flights between Hamburg and Frankfurt. Lufthansa has extensive maintenance and test facilities in Hamburg and will be able to evaluate the fuel performance in everyday operations.
The airline is talking with Neste Oil over further supplies – around 600 tonnes in total – of jatropha as well as tallow and rapeseed based jet fuels, and is looking to run around 1,400 flights using an Airbus A321 in the trials programme, which is expected to save up to 1,500 tonnes of CO2. Lufthansa has no plans to use Neste’s controversial palm oil (see story).
After collection of the data, the trials will be followed by a two-year research project to analyse and assess possible production methods for various fuels with the aim of selecting the most promising fuel varieties. Feedstock availability will be another crucial issue, said Buse.
Also involved in the Lufthansa Pure Sky programme are the technical universities of Hamburg and Munich, the German Aerospace Center (DLR) and the German Biomass Research Centre (DBFZ).
Earlier in the conference, Mark Rumizen of the FAA explained the ASTM process was collaborative with all stakeholders participating equally and sharing the responsibility that fuels were safe and met the performance specifications.
“That can get frustrating sometimes. With alternative fuels we are now working backwards – trying to design fuels that fit the existing legacy aircraft engines. Many of us would like one boss who says we’re going to get this done and marshal all the resources necessary. But it really can’t work like that. Everyone has to contribute and at the same time everyone’s opinion is welcomed and must be considered.”
Added Rolls-Royce fuels specialist Chris Lewis: “Fuel is at the high-performance heart of the engine and, of course, the engine manufacturer has the ultimate responsibility to certify new fuel and say it’s fit for purpose.
“Fuel affects safety, operability, engine reliability, cost of ownership and actual performance of the engine in terms of fuel consumption and emissions. As hardware manufacturers, we are being asked to improve the performance of each generation of engine to meet quite difficult targets. Therefore, while we might appear awkward and fussy we have to ensure future fuels don’t compromise the performance of the engine.
“Quality assurance is an important issue. We are fundamentally changing the supply chain, from the raw material to the aircraft, and we have to be aware of the risks that entails so you need the right sort of structure in place to maintain the standards we have today.”
Rolls-Royce is currently engaged in a joint engine test programme with British Airways, with funding from the FAA’s CLEEN (Continuous Lower Energy, Emissions and Noise) initiative, to understand the performance characteristics of different biofuel products.
The airline said at the SWAFEA conference that from an original 20 companies interested in supplying biofuel for testing, nine had been chosen to supply around 10 litres of fuel – which had to pass RSB sustainability criteria – for lab testing. Depending on results, around five suppliers would be required to supply 9,000 litres for rig testing, before the number of fuel products was narrowed down to around two for full testing in a year’s time in which 50,000 litres would have to be supplied.
BA’s Head of Environment, Jonathon Counsell, said the programme was intended to advance industry knowledge and the results would be made available to other interested parties.
Counsell called for a more practical mechanism in the upcoming EU Emissions Trading Scheme for crediting airlines using biofuels, which, he said, should be based on purchase rather than physical tracking. His suggestion is likely to find support in the SWAFEA study to be submitted to the European Commission. Also relevant to the EU ETS, it appears the zero rating all aviation biofuels attract under the scheme is currently under review by the Commission in order to bring them into line with sustainability criteria outlined in the Renewable Energy Directive.
In other airline-related news from the SWAFEA conference, Air France’s VP Environment, Pierre Albano, said approval was expected by May for a biomass-to-liquid demonstration plant in eastern France that would supply jet fuel to the airline from 2014. Air France is partnering with the country’s Atomic Energy Commission (CEA) in the Bure-Saudron project and has entered into an offtake agreement involving 2,000 tonnes of fuel per year. Albano said it would likely be used in flights between Strasbourg and Paris.
A report by GreenAir Online on the SWAFEA (Sustainable Way for Alternative Fuels and Energy for Aviation) conference will follow shortly.