Airbus and EADS join Chinese venture to develop algae-based jet fuels, with demo flight planned for 2013
ENN, Airbus and EADS officials sign algae-to-jet fuel agreement (photo: ENN)
Fri 16 Nov 2012 – Airbus, EADS Innovation Works and leading Chinese bio-energy company ENN have signed a memorandum of understanding to partner in assessing the potential for developing alternative aviation fuels based on microalgae oils produced in China. The scope of the collaboration includes technical qualification of such fuels and to promote their use for aviation in China, one of the world’s fastest growing aviation markets. ENN has developed one of the most advanced pilot plants in the world and is able to produce more than 10 tons of algae-based oil per year. An objective is after a technical assessment to plan test flights to take place in 2013 using oil supplied by ENN and afterwards look to scale up the alternative fuel production process to achieve sustainable quantities of aviation fuel for flight use.
In the initial first phase of the project, the partners will work together on a maturity assessment of algae oil technology, on oil testing and analysis, and on the development of tools to assess the environmental, economic and societal impact of the technology.
Certain species of algae contain high amounts of oil that can be extracted, processed and refined. Microalgae reproduce rapidly and create at least 30 times more organic substance per cultivation area than, for example, rapeseed, claims EADS, and consume large amounts of CO2. As algae can be grown on poor quality land using non-potable or salt water, their cultivation does not compete with food production. ENN says a hectare of microalgae could process 15,000 to 80,000 litres of oil.
Set up in 2007, the ENN Biomass Energy Technology Center has focused on research of CO2-microalgae-biodiesel technology and has recently established a 5,000-tonne biodiesel demonstration project in Inner Mongolia for recycling use of CO2 from coal-fired power plants and chemical plants as well as bio-energy production. ENN has so far developed 70 technologies with proprietary intellectual property rights in biomass energy, such as light bioreactor and biodiesel production.
“Applying algae biotechnology to produce clean energy using industrial waste, including CO2 and wastewater, is part of our carbon recycle programme,” explained Dr Zhongxue Gan, CTO of ENN Group. “Sustainability is crucial to our environment and the global community. ENN, as a clean energy provider, and Airbus, as an energy consumer, are striving to make sure that algal jet fuel can be delivered and used to reduce carbon emissions for the airline industry.”
Airbus will support the necessary fuel tests and qualification activities leading to the deployment of the sustainable alternative fuels for commercial flights and will coordinate the participation of external partners such as engine manufacturers and airlines.
“We are privileged to be working with ENN to determine how we can best contribute to a sustainable aviation sector in China,” said Frédéric Eychenne, New Energies Programme Manager for Airbus, which is involved in a global programme to set up regional sustainable aviation biofuel value chains on every continent. “The commercialisation of new generation alternative fuels is one of the essential ingredients in our quest to achieving ambitious environmental targets in aviation.”
EADS has been in the forefront of promoting microalgae as a promising pathway for the production of aviation biofuels.
“We have already proven that it is technically feasible to fly with algae oil,” said EADS CTO Jean Botti at this week’s China International Air Show in Zhuhai. “Now we need to demonstrate that the industrial production of algae-based biofuel is both ecologically and economically viable.”