KLM plans drive-down of jet biofuel price premium as it starts regular series of biofuel transatlantic flights
Watched by MD Camiel Eurlings, KLM Boeing 777-200 takes on biofuel blend (photo: KLM)
Mon 18 March 2013 – The Boeing 777-200 flight between New York JFK and Amsterdam Schiphol on March 8 not only marked the start of the first-ever series of regular biofuel-powered intercontinental flights but also an important milestone in KLM’s aim of regular use of sustainable jet fuel blends at costs becoming increasingly comparable to the fossil fuel equivalent. The airline will run weekly flights every Thursday until August using a blend made up of 20 per cent used cooking oil derived fuel from Dynamics Fuel and supplied by SkyNRG, a company it set up in 2009. Other partners in the flight series include Schiphol Group, Delta Air Lines and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. The flights make up a programme called ‘Optimal Flight’ that will continue through 2013 and includes research and testing in cooperation with Boeing of air traffic management procedures.
“Alongside this biofuel series, we are starting a study to further identify sustainability gains in fuel, weight and CO2 reduction throughout the entire flight process,” explained Camiel Eurlings, KLM’s Managing Director. “We are striving to achieve the ‘optimal flight’ together with research institutes, suppliers, airports and air traffic control. We are combining new and existing technology, processes and efficiency initiatives to achieve this.”
The biofuel being used on the flights is the first to be certified by the Roundtable on Sustainable Biofuels (RSB) and was awarded just prior to the March 8 flight (see article). Peter Ryus, CEO of RSB Services Foundation, described the flight as “a great moment for sustainability.”
Speaking at last week’s World Biofuels Markets conference in Rotterdam, Ignaas Caryn, Director of Biofuels Strategy at KLM, said that after the series of demonstration flights over the past three to four years, including the world’s longest intercontinental flight last June (between Amsterdam and Rio), KLM was now at the stage when it wanted to step up to a continuous use of jet biofuel.
He told delegates: “The question is how we can afford this when the price premium is very high. One of the innovative approaches we have launched together with SkyNRG is our Corporate Biofuel Program, so our business customers are helping us to become more sustainable. This gives them the opportunity to reduce their carbon footprint when flying with us.”
The programme was started in June last year (see article) with seven corporate partners, including Accenture, Heineken, Nike and Philips, with a further eight added since. Rather than buying carbon offsets, the programme allows them to more directly compensate for their air travel by contributing to the sustainable fuel cost for a portion of their total flight volume or on specific routes.
One of the early partners is Schiphol Group, operator of Amsterdam Schiphol, which is actively participating in the New York to Amsterdam flight series and contributing to the cost of the biofuel through the programme.
“I’m pleased to join hands with our home carrier KLM to create a steady demand for biofuels in aviation,” said Jos Nijhuis, Schiphol Group CEO. “We at Schiphol have long recognised our responsibility to minimise our environmental footprint. It is our duty as partners in the aviation industry to spur innovation and to create new solutions which make aviation more efficient and more sustainable.”
Caryn said the programme showed the biofuel value chains that there was a willingness to purchase their fuels on a regular basis, and such chains would be key in the successful commercialisation of biofuels and getting the price down to a level at which airlines could afford to purchase. “In the end, these chains must address the big challenge of driving down the cost of jet biofuels.”
Looking ahead, KLM has signed an offtake agreement with the ITAKA supply chain consortium (see article) to purchase 4,000 tonnes of jet biofuel, mostly expected to be derived from Spanish-grown camelina crops, in batches at the end of this year and another in 2014. “This will allow us to continue this series of flights,” anticipates Caryn.
He added that KLM was in the process of creating a portfolio of partnerships to develop regional supply chains, including within Europe, covering different feedstock and technology pathways. “KLM is looking for a one per cent blending target by 2015, or around 30,000 to 35,000 tonnes of jet biofuel, and we will ensure that every drop has come from a sustainable source.”
In three to five years time, Caryn is looking for projects to move up to larger-scale demonstration production, with further reductions in the price premium. During the 2018-2023 timeframe, he foresees commercial plants coming onstream with further price breakthroughs that will see the cost of jet biofuels at or below their fossil fuel equivalents (see chart below). “This can only be done by creating the right partnerships and financial mechanisms,” he cautioned.
The New York-Amsterdam series technology demonstration will also encompass all aspects of an aircraft’s flight – preflight, take-off, cruise, descent and landing.
“The art of the possible comes to life with ‘Optimal Flight’, combining all of Boeing’s current flight efficiency projects in a single programme to demonstrate the most efficient, environmentally progressive flight possible,” said Mike Caflisch, Director of Airspace Programs, Boeing Digital Aviation. “This demonstration programme will help us determine where next to focus our research and development to deliver improvements to air traffic management and airline services for our customers.”
If the programme proves successful, Boeing and KLM will establish new operational procedures and recommendations for follow-on development programmes with the partners, which include NLR, TU Delft (Delft University of Technology), JFK International Airport, Gander, Shanwick, NATS Domestic and Schiphol Group. Further R&D has been agreed involving Boeing, KLM, Schiphol and Dutch air traffic control to develop solutions for the sustained growth of aviation in the Netherlands.
“KLM is one of the most progressive airlines in the industry and a great partner in our ongoing commitment to finding ways to realise savings in fuel and reductions in emissions and noise,” said Brian Moran, Vice President, Boeing Northern Europe.”