Global use of sustainable aviation fuels widens with first commercial flights for South America, Australia and Canada
LAN biofuel flight greeted in Concepcion, Chile (photo: LAN)
Thu 29 March 2012 – Dutch sustainable jet fuel supplier SkyNRG has notched up two more biofuel-powered commercial flight ‘firsts’. LAN Chile recently carried out South America’s first second-generation jet biofuel flight between the Chilean cities of Santiago and Concepcion using SkyNRG’s used cooking oil biofuel. Qantas Airways has reported it will operate Australia’s first commercial flights powered by sustainable aviation fuel from SkyNRG on a return service between Sydney and Adelaide on April 13. Qantas said it has ended collaborations set up last year with US biofuel companies Solena and Solazyme. Meanwhile, Porter Airlines has announced it will use one of its Bombardier Q400 turboprop aircraft to conduct the first biofuel-powered revenue flight in Canada in mid-April, using a biofuel blend derived from the crops camelina sativa and brassica carinata supplied by a Canadian producer.
SkyNRG supplied LAN Chile and Air BP Copec with a fuel based on used cooking oil for the flight on March 7 of an Airbus A320 powered by CFM56-5B engines.
At an event to mark the arrival of the flight in Concepcion, LAN Executive Vice President Enrique Cueto said: “This flight represents a key step towards the future of the industry. At LAN, we aim to develop sustainable biofuels for commercial aircraft with a high production potential in South America. Currently, these renewable energy sources play a significant role in global aviation and will affect, increasingly, decision-making in the industry and our company. We want to be pioneers in the use of renewable fuels in South America.”
The Qantas flight will involve an Airbus A330 aircraft using a 50/50 blend of used cooking oil and conventional jet fuel. The airline reports that SkyNRG has supplied it with 25,000 litres of its biofuel for the flights, which, it claims, has a life-cycle carbon footprint 60% smaller than that of conventional fuel.
John Valastro, Qantas’ Head of Environment, said the goal of the flights was to raise awareness about the potential for sustainable aviation fuel in Australia. However, he said until it was produced on a commercial scale and at a competitive price, the industry would not be able to realise its true benefits.
“No single player can make this happen – it needs support from government, private sector investment, access to infrastructure and market demand,” he said.
“Over recent months, Qantas has been in discussions with government and industry partners about taking the next step – producing a clear blueprint for the establishment of an Australian sustainable aviation fuel industry. This needs to focus not on speculative technologies but on biofuels that are operationally feasible now, production of which could commence within the next few years – given the right conditions.
“We hope to accelerate the process in the coming weeks as we build towards this Australian-first flight.”
A 2011 study by CSIRO (see article) found that such an industry was feasible and over the next 20 years could generate more than 12,000 jobs and decrease aviation emissions by 17%. However, it also identified significant obstacles that had to be overcome, including the lack of refining capacity in Australia.
In February 2011, Qantas entered into agreements to explore sustainable aviation biofuel opportunities in Australia with US municipal waste to jet fuel biotechnology company Solena and also with Solazyme on algal-derived jet fuel using nationally grown sugarcane.
“The partnerships with Solena and Solazyme have proved useful in terms of gaining knowledge about their respective feedstocks and production processes. However, at this point no further projects are planned with either company,” a Qantas spokesman told GreenAir.
“Our focus now is on the infrastructure need to produce aviation biofuel in Australia using one of the approved production pathways. We hope to make a further announcement about our intentions in the coming weeks.”
In preparation for the Porter Airlines flight next month, Bombardier carried out a two-hour biofuel-powered test flight of a Q400 on February 9, the first aircraft in Canada to fly on certified bio-derived fuel. “During the flight, the Q400 aircraft successfully undertook several manoeuvres including engine-out climbs, rapid engine accelerations and cruising to verify the performance of the aircraft,” reported Mike Arcamone, President of Bombardier Commercial Aircraft.
The Porter revenue flight will use a 50/50 blend of Jet-A1 fuel and a biofuel derived from camelina sativa (49%) and brassica carinata (1%). The camelina has been supplied by Targeted Growth Canada, a partner in the biofuel programme that also includes Pratt & Whitney Canada, the manufacturer of the PW150A engines that power the Q400.
“We are timing our biofuel-powered flight close to Earth Day to emphasise the contribution that biofuels are expected to make in helping the aviation industry meet its targeted reduction in emissions,” said Porter CEO Robert Deluce. “Q400 and Q400 NextGen aircraft are already among the ‘greenest’ aircraft in the world and the use of biofuel will make the aircraft even more environmentally conscious.”
Funding for the biofuel programme, which was first announced in 2010, is being provided by the partners as well as by the Green Aviation Research & Development Network (GARDN) based in Montreal.
GARDN currently has 15 R&D projects in diverse areas such as source noise reduction, source emissions reduction, materials and manufacturing processes, airport and aircraft operations and product lifecycle management, as well as alternative fuels. At last week’s Aviation & Environment Summit in Geneva, it signed a cooperation agreement with the Air Transport Action Group (ATAG). The two organisations intend to foster and promote environmental research in aviation, particularly in the areas of sustainable aviation biofuels, sustainable development, industry collaboration and climate change.
The first official joint activity will be ATAG’s participation in the organisation of GARDN’s annual conference on September 25-26 in Toronto.