Airbus and BA form consortium with Cranfield to explore feasibility of offshore algae for jet fuel production
Announcing SURF: (L-R) Cranfield’s Prof Feargal Brennan and Ilze Lee, BA’s Andy Kershaw and Christian Dumas of Airbus
Tue 21 Sept 2010 – Airbus and British Airways are to take part in a project set up by the UK’s Cranfield University to explore how algae can be harvested in ocean-based facilities to produce jet fuel in commercial quantities. A consortium called the Sustainable Use of Renewable Fuels (SURF) has been set by the three parties, along with Rolls-Royce, Finnair, London Gatwick Airport and IATA, to serve as an advisory and steering group to Cranfield’s Sea Green project. The university already has a pilot facility on campus that is growing and processing algae for biofuels but the eventual aim is for Sea Green to set up sustainable salt-water facilities, producing the first commercial quantities of biomass for biofuels within three years.
The consortium aims to address five major considerations for the successful use of renewable fuels from microalgae, including environmental impact; processing, capacity and distribution; commercial; and legislation and regulation. Specific studies will look at future sustainability modelling and environmental lifecycle assessment.
Sea Green will be designed to use the expanse of the world’s near-shore waters to rapidly grow microalgae at a faster rate than any other initiative and capture CO2 from the atmosphere and seas at the same time, says the consortium. In addition to a “negative carbon mechanism” – meaning that net carbon is taken out of the atmosphere – the facility will not compete with agricultural land, require fresh water, result in deforestation or damage the environment, it claims.
“Many biofuels compete with agricultural land and fresh water which results in the price of food being pushed up,” commented Professor Feargal Brennan, Head of Cranfield University’s Department of Offshore, Process and Energy Engineering. “This project and consortium will aim to see how algae could benefit the aviation industry. It will look at ways to grow and harvest naturally occurring species of algae in large volumes and to process these into fuel. Algae grows naturally in sea water and with over 70% of the surface of the earth being water, Cranfield’s Sea Green project is a logical and potentially high yield solution. Few replacement options to kerosene for fuelling commercial aircraft have been identified but jet fuel produced from algae produced in this way could be a major break-through.”
Paul Nash, Head of New Energies at Airbus, said: “We see algae as one of the most promising and sustainable solutions for commercial quantities of biofuels. Industry initiatives like SURF demonstrate our commitment to reducing emissions.”
Jonathon Counsell, Head of Environment at British Airways, said: “Sustainable fuels will play a critical role in reducing the carbon footprint of global aviation by 50% net by 2050, delivering substantially lower lifecycle emissions whilst avoiding other environmental impacts.”
In another partnership with Rolls-Royce, British Airways is in the process of getting an alternative fuel engine test programme off the ground. Having previously failed two years ago to obtain sufficient quantities of alternative jet fuels from suppliers, the programme is now back on track, reported the engine manufacturer’s Vice President Strategic Marketing, Robert Nuttall, at last week’s Aviation & Environment Summit.
“We have re-energized the whole project as part of the FAA’s CLEEN programme and we have had 30 to 40 responses,” he told delegates. “We have gone from RFI to RFP (request for proposal) and we are now actively engaged in a programme to take the fuel beyond even where the ASTM certification process is currently.
British Airways is also involved in a project in East London with US biofuel company Solena Group that aims to produce jet fuel from municipal waste biomass that would otherwise be destined for landfill (see story). The $280 million facility is expected to produce 16 million gallons of jet fuel annually once the facility becomes operational, which is anticipated in 2014.