Leading aircraft manufacturers set aside their rivalries to collaborate on accelerating aviation biofuel commercialisation
Best of friends: Boeing’s Albaugh, Embraer’s César and Airbus’ Enders shake on biofuels collaboration (photo: ATAG)
Mon 26 March 2012 – Aircraft manufacturers Airbus, Boeing and Embraer have set aside their competitive differences to come together and help promote and accelerate the availability of sustainable new jet fuel sources. Without going into specific details the three rivals say they will seek collaborative opportunities to “speak in unity” to government, biofuel producers and key stakeholders. Airbus has also joined an Australian consortium that includes Virgin Australia, which is studying the production of sustainable jet biofuels from eucalyptus mallee trees through pyrolytic thermal conversion. Fuels derived from pyrolysis have not yet been approved for commercial aviation use by the international standards bodies and Airbus will support the certification process.
“The production and use of sustainable quantities of aviation biofuels is key to meeting our industry’s ambitious CO2 reduction targets and we are helping to do this through research and technology, our expanding network of worldwide value chains and supporting the EU Commission towards its target of four per cent of biofuel for aviation by 2020,” said Airbus CEO Tom Enders.
Commenting on the collaboration with its rivals, Boeing Commercial Airplanes CEO Jim Albaugh said: “There are times to compete and there are times to cooperate. Two of the biggest threats to our industry are the price of oil and the impact of commercial air travel on our environment. By working with Airbus and Embraer on sustainable biofuels, we can accelerate their availability and reduce our industry’s impacts on the planet we share.”
Boeing and Embraer are already working together on how to establish a sustainable aviation biofuels industry in Brazil and are exploring new technology pathways to broaden biofuel sourcing and availability.
“We are all committed to taking a leading role in the development of technology programmes that will facilitate aviation biofuels development and actual application faster than if we were doing it independently,” said Paulo César Silva, President of Embraer Commercial Aviation.
Embraer has been actively involved in a series of environmental initiatives developed since 2007 and has been an aerospace industry leader in the Dow Jones Sustainability Index for a number of years, César told GreenAir at last week’s Aviation & Environment Summit.
Brazil has a long-standing use of drop-in, sugarcane-derived ethanol biofuels in ground transportation going back to the 1970s and Embraer has its own history of research into alternative aviation fuels. The company recently delivered its 1,200th Ipanema crop duster light aircraft, which have been able to run on 100% bioethanol for the past three years.
“The environment and alternative aviation fuels are in our DNA,” said César.
Guilherme Freire, Embraer’s Director of Environmental Strategies and Technologies, said that in collaboration with Boeing a series of workshops starting on April 25 will take place during this year that will focus on developing a sustainable aviation biofuel value chain in Brazil, involving academic study, finance, logistics, policy and sustainability standards. A possible step will be the creation of a research centre and there is anticipation that a long-term roadmap will be forthcoming before the end of the year. Non-food crops such as jatropha and camelina have been identified as having great potential as biomass for sustainable jet fuels.
Airbus too has created a sustainable aviation biofuel value chain in Latin America, as well as Europe and the Middle East, and its involvement in the Australian consortium is aimed at developing a complete sustainable aviation biofuel value chain capability on every continent before the end of 2012.
The indigenous mallee is a well-adapted and sustainable crop grown in Western Australia’s wheat belt that helps return salt-affected land to a productive state, says Airbus, and can be planted on farms alongside crops to provide a range of environmental benefits and contribute to the long-term sustainability of the overall farming operation.
The consortium also includes Future Farm Industries CRC, which is developing sustainable farming systems as part of the Australian government’s Cooperative Research Centres programme. The objective is to have a pilot alternative fuel production plant operating in the next year. The sustainability analysis is managed by CRC, Airbus and the UK’s Manchester Metropolitan University.
“In order to produce a biofuel that can be used sustainably in our current aircraft, it is important to have members from every part of the supply chain involved,” commented Virgin Australia’s Group Executive of Operations, Sean Donohue. “Airbus will bring vast expertise in aircraft manufacturing to the consortium.”