Airbus and TAROM launch major project to produce aviation biofuel from European-grown camelina
Camelina is indigenous to Romania (photo: Airbus)
Tue 22 Mar 2011 – Airbus and Romanian airline TAROM have launched a biofuel project that they hope may lead to commercial-scale production of sustainable jet biofuel derived from the camelina plant. A high-energy oilseed crop, camelina has been grown in Romania for thousands of years and tests in the United States have shown it to be a promising feedstock for jet biofuel. Feasibility studies will be carried out by a consortium of key stakeholders on a range of different seed varieties and harvesting methods, with Airbus acting as the catalyst in setting up a Romanian ‘value chain’ towards production. Paul Nash, Head of New Energies at Airbus, is optimistic enough fuel can be sourced for demonstration flights to take place by TAROM before the end of the year. Airbus will be involved in ensuring sustainability criteria is met and Nash believes the fuel will achieve a minimum 50 per cent reduction in life-cycle GHG emissions compared to conventional jet kerosene.
“This is the first European-based value chain project bringing together farmers, oil refiners and an airline to spearhead the commercialisation of sustainable biofuel production,” said Nash. “The Romanian Camelina Value Chain will help us further verify the sustainability and economic viability of producing bio-kerosene.”
Camelina can be grown on marginal agricultural lands, needs little water or nitrogen to flourish and does not compete with food crops. It is often rotated with other crops, particularly wheat, and is said to improve the quality of the soil.
According to Nash, Romania has 12 million hectares of agricultural land with 4 million hectares considered to be non-arable and which could be potentially used for growing camelina.
“The other point that is really interesting about the country is that it has a fantastic oil refining capability,” he added.
As well as sponsoring the sustainability assessment and life-cycle analysis studies, Airbus will be providing technical and project management expertise. It will also support the fuel approval processes and lead in assessing the effect on aircraft systems and engines. Although largely a Boeing 737 operator, TAROM has four CFM-powered Airbus A318 aircraft in its fleet.
Also involved with the project is aviation biofuel refining technology specialist Honeywell UOP. Camelina Company España is contributing its knowledge on camelina agronomy, including camelina growth technologies, agricultural monitoring networks and plant science. The project is being overseen by a Romanian NGO and the consortium will also work with the Bucharest University of Agronomical Sciences and Veterinary Medicine’s Centre of Biotechnology (BIOTEHGEN) on the sustainable agricultural phase of the project regarding the camelina plantations, harvesting and oil production.
“For Airbus, the most important factor is sustainability and the first stage will look at the environmental impact before moving to the second phase of building a commercial solution,” said Nash.
He said the consortium has already started discussions with oil refiners in Romania and possible joint ventures. As a state-owned airline, Nash believes the TAROM connection can help in obtaining government support when seeking outside long-term investment for an anticipated large-scale production of aviation biofuels.
Like most airlines, he said, TAROM was looking for a regular biofuel source, particularly with the impending impact of the EU ETS, where the use of such fuels can be set against an operator’s carbon costs. Long term, he can see other airlines using aviation biofuels produced in Romania and also the country becoming a European hub for processing other feedstocks and biomass material from both locally and elsewhere. “It’s something we’re really missing in Europe just now.”
Planting of the first camelina crop is due to start at the end of this month with further crop trials planned for the autumn. Nash declined to reveal how many hectares are involved but it will be enough to produce fuel for between two and four flights before the end of the year, he said, depending on the yields per hectare achieved.
Nash is confident that aviation jet biofuels will be certified for commercial flights during the second half of the year and added that Airbus was looking to implement different biofuel projects on every continent.