GREENAIR NEWSLETTER 18 DECEMBER 2015
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UK airspace changes and Heathrow arrivals procedure will lessen environmental impact, say CAA and NATS
Fri 18 Dec 2015 – A NATS trial project to slow aircraft down up to 350 miles from London in order to cut holding times at Heathrow Airport has proved successful enough for it to be brought into permanent operational service. The cross-border arrivals management procedure, called XMAN, involves NATS air traffic controllers in the UK working with their counterparts in France, Ireland, Belgium and the Netherlands. Since the project started in April 2014, NATS says holding times for those aircraft impacted by the trial have been reduced by up to a minute, equating to savings of 8,000 tonnes of CO2 and £1.65 million ($2.4m) in fuel costs. The UK CAA, meanwhile, has approved major airspace changes covering eastern and southern England that will enable aircraft to fly more efficiently, help reduce the number of low-level flights and so reduce their environmental impact.
With Heathrow at 98% of its scheduled capacity, stacking provides the necessary continuous flow of traffic into the airport, but NATS says it can only influence an aircraft’s approach once it enters UK airspace, which can be as close at 80 miles away. By absorbing delay in the en-route phase, when aircraft are higher and so more fuel-efficient, emissions can be saved and noise impacts minimised, adds the ANSP.
Led by NATS at its Swanwick and Prestwick centres, the project is an inter-FAB (Functional Airspace Block) collaboration between the UK-Ireland FAB and FABEC, with partners DSNA in France, the Irish Aviation Authority (IAA), Eurocontrol in Maastricht and Heathrow Airport. XMAN has not yet been made permanent with the IAA, which is expected in September next year following the implementation of electronic data transfer technology by NATS.
XMAN is a key SESAR concept as part of the Single European Sky initiative, which will require 24 airports across Europe to deploy XMAN procedures by 2024.
“Even though the system is now in full operational service, we will continue to make enhancements that will help us deliver even greater time, fuel and emission savings,” said Juliet Kennedy, Operations Director at the NATS Swanwick control centre.
Jon Proudlove, Interim Airside Director at Heathrow, said: “Our work is not done yet and we will keep working with NATS and other partners to not only maximise the environmental benefits of leading-edge tools like this, but also how they support our delivery to plan, ensuring a world-class passenger experience at Heathrow.”
During the recent COP21 climate conference in Paris, NATS became the first air navigation service provider to sign up to an international voluntary framework committing to transparently report its greenhouse gas emissions performance. The initiative is led by the Climate Disclosure Standards Board and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).
NATS says it is already implementing the Greenhouse Gas (GHG) Protocol to standardise how it identifies and calculates GHG emissions and will now also voluntarily report this information using the Climate Change Reporting Framework.
The ANSP has in place an environmental target to reduce air traffic related CO2 emissions by 10% in 2020.
The airspace changes approved by the UK Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) are the first major development of the UK’s Future Airspace Strategy (FAS), which is aimed at modernising airspace by 2020. It is part of a European project to improve airspace infrastructure to deliver a more efficient use of airspace and enable environmental improvements, including fuel and CO2 savings, by aircraft flying more direct routes, together with faster climbs and descents that will also reduce noise impacts on the overflown. The FAS aims to save over 160,000 tonnes of fuel and 500,000 tonnes of CO2 emissions per year.
The new changes will see aircraft using London City Airport flying over the Thames Estuary for significantly longer and so reducing noise for many, claims the CAA, and aircraft departing from London Stansted to the south-east will climb higher sooner. The CAA estimates this will save around 30,000 tonnes of CO2 per year. In total, five changes have been approved, affecting aircraft using seven airports in the south-east of England, and will be implemented on 4 February 2016.
“We absolutely understand that aircraft noise disturbs many people. These changes move significant numbers of flights away from populated areas and will reduce overall emissions,” said the CAA’s Head of Airspace, Air Traffic Management & Aerodromes, Phil Roberts.
“As we have done with this decision, we will continue to consider the environmental impact of all our airspace decisions and have called on the aviation industry and other decision-makers to be much more ambitious in confronting aviation’s environmental challenges.”
NATS/DSNA – XMAN , NATS – Environment , CAA – Future Airspace Strategy , CAA – Airspace change
Japanese microalgae company Euglena plans new demo plant to produce jet biofuels for ANA
Thu 17 Dec 2015 – Japanese microalgae company Euglena has announced plans to build the country’s first demonstration plant to produce jet biofuel from algae. In a partnership with Chevron Lummus Global, the refinery is to be built in Yokohama and anticipated to cost around 3 billion yen ($24m), with an aim to start operations in 2018. The refinery is expected to produce around 33,000 gallons of jet biofuel per year, which will be supplied to All Nippon Airways (ANA), and Euglena hopes to proceed with a full commercial plant “in the 2020s”. Other construction, commercialisation and procurement partners in the venture include engineering company Chiyoda, Isuzu Motors and Itochu Enex.
The fuel is refined from oil extracted from euglena, the algae strain after which the company takes its name, and is claimed to have similar chemical properties as conventional jet kerosene.
ANA EVP Kiyoshi Tonomoto said the algae-based fuel will be mixed as a 10% blend with conventional jet fuel and could be used for one round-trip a week between Tokyo Haneda and Osaka International airports a week.
The demo plant will also be able to refine from other sources of algae and also used cooking oil in case there are insufficient supplies of euglena available.
Euglena President Mitsuru Izumo said the biggest challenge to commercialisation of his company’s fuel was the price premium but said he aims to make the fuel price competitive over time. The company already makes nutritional supplements from the algae it produces and it can also be used in the manufacture of cosmetics.
Private sector research firm Fuji Keizai estimates the global demand for aviation biofuels will increase by a factor 16 between 2012 and 2030 to reach an annual market value of 11.88 trillion yen ($95bn).
Last year, over 30 companies and organisations based in Japan from the aerospace, fuel, engineering, finance and research sectors formed a group called Initiatives for Next Generation Aviation Fuels (INAF) to plan a roadmap towards using nationally sourced aviation biofuels by 2020, when the Olympic and Paralympic Games are to be held in Tokyo (see article).
Euglena , ANA - CSR
Omission of international aviation from Paris climate agreement a vote of confidence, says ICAO President
Wed 16 Dec 2015 – The fact that international aviation was not covered by the Paris Agreement reached at COP21 last Saturday (Dec 12) is a vote of confidence in the progress ICAO and the aviation community have made towards ambitious climate goals, according to ICAO Council President Dr Olumuyiwa Benard Aliu. ICAO Secretary General Dr Fang Liu said the COP21 process and outcome represented a major accomplishment for the world and aviation, and 2016 would be “a very big year” for environmental issues at ICAO, with progress expected on the global market-based measure (MBM) and aircraft CO2 standard. The Paris Agreement will provide additional momentum to the MBM negotiations, said IATA Director General Tony Tyler. EU Climate Commissioner Miguel Arias Cañete said the EU had fought hard to have the sector included in the Agreement and was concerned by the slow pace of the MBM development.
In response to the Paris outcome, ICAO said that rather than including international aviation in the Agreement, COP21 had invited ICAO to continue to report progress on its environmental programme to future sessions of the UNFCCC’s Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice (SBSTA).
“COP21 has been a great success for our planet and for civil society, but of course its process did not end with the concluding of its agreement,” said Dr Aliu in an ICAO statement. “Every State and every global industrial sector must now redouble their efforts towards achieving substantial progress on emissions reduction if the COP21 legacy is to be achieved, and the civil aviation community is no exception.”
The agreement would provide further momentum towards achieving an agreement on the MBM at ICAO’s 39th Assembly later next year, he added. The Assembly will consider a recommendation for an MBM scheme addressing its main design elements and related implementation mechanisms from 2020. The MBM is considered a key aspect of the aviation community’s global response to climate change, said ICAO.
The UN agency said COP21 had supported a Declaration from ICAO’s 36-State Governing Council (see article), “which emphasised that it would continue to provide the necessary leadership, through ICAO, on all environmental issues relating to international civil aviation.”
Dr Aliu and ICAO Secretary General Dr Fang Liu both attended COP21, along with representatives from ICAO’s Environmental Protection team, and undertook more than 20 bilateral meetings with heads of governments and international organisations.
Said Dr Liu: “2016 will be a very big year for our sector and the environment, not only with respect to the MBM progress we expect at our Assembly, but also on a new global CO2 certification standard for aircraft that should soon be completed.
“We look forward to making further progress with our States by providing tailored assistance and capacity building where needed, and through further and concerted cooperation, I am sure aviation will continue to play an important role in helping the world to achieve a sustainable future.”
During a visit to India to attend an airports conference that took place during the COP21 fortnight, Dr Liu met with India’s Secretary of the Environment, Ashok Lavasa. “Dr Liu was grateful to learn of India’s willingness to join global efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and of its optimism about a successful outcome in the negotiations at Paris,” said an ICAO statement. “She also suggested that India could play a proactive role through the ICAO Council to help its States reach consensus on an MBM for international aviation in advance of the next Assembly.”
Providing an airline sector response to the successful conclusion over the weekend, IATA Director General Tony Tyler said: “IATA welcomes the historic COP21 Paris Agreement, which will provide additional momentum to governments for the negotiations at ICAO on an aviation emissions agreement that are expected to conclude next year.
“The aviation industry, through ICAO, is working towards securing its goal of carbon-neutral growth from 2020, and the positive outcome of the Paris conference gives more impetus to governments to achieve this.”
EU Climate Commissioner Miguel Arias Cañete, the EU’s lead negotiator at COP21, told reporters on Monday (Dec 14) the EU “had fought to the last moment” to have international aviation and shipping included in the Paris Agreement. However, even though they were not mentioned in the Agreement, the emissions from the two sectors would have to be included in the overall long-term global climate goals reached in Paris, he said.
On the MBM, he said: “We are concerned about the slow pace of the negotiations at ICAO. We are going to press with other parties to find a solution because if we don’t have a market measure then we will have a real problem.
“We have stopped the clock [on the inclusion of extra-EU flights in the EU Emissions Trading Scheme] but if nothing happens we will have to relook at the legislation and have an open debate with the European Parliament, and then we will have to take a decision. We are working for the best outcome of the global measure but if there is no movement on the measure then we will have a big problem and it will need to have an internal solution.”
German MEP Peter Liese, the European Parliament’s spokesperson on climate change and also rapporteur on the inclusion of aviation into the EU ETS, said he regretted international aviation and shipping had not been given concrete reduction targets.
“There is no explanation why we demand from energy intensive industries like steel, cement or chemicals to play their role in climate protection while we leave aviation and shipping out, and ICAO does not seriously negotiate about reducing emissions,” he said. “We need to put a lot more pressure on ICAO now. Everyone has to do something.”
Historic global climate agreement reached in Paris but international aviation left on the sidelines
Mon 14 Dec 2015 – The historic climate agreement reached in Paris on Saturday (Dec 12) will provide a positive momentum for discussions taking place at ICAO on introducing a market-based measure (MBM) for international aviation carbon emissions, said the industry’s Air Transport Action Group (ATAG). It called on governments to “redouble their efforts” in progressing work on developing the measure next year. However, to the surprise of many, the paragraph in earlier draft texts referring to international aviation and shipping was removed in the later stages and despite efforts by some smaller countries and the European Union to have it reinserted, there is no mention in the final agreement. Environmental NGOs believe the absence casts doubts over who is responsible for controlling the fast-growing emissions from the aviation and maritime sectors post-2020, which together currently account for around 5% of global CO2 emissions, or 3.5% of international emissions.
ATAG hailed the Paris Agreement as an ambitious and far-reaching response by governments to climate change. “It provides important key building blocks, including support for international carbon markets and the use of forestry as a source of offsets,” it said in a statement afterwards. “The aviation sector will need access to high-quality offsets as it develops the global MBM. It also provides clarity for differentiation between States which will enable governments to deliver a fit-for-purpose global measure for our sector.”
Differentiation – the principle that developed countries bear a greater historical responsibility for dealing with climate change – has been at the heart of the stalemate at ICAO on agreeing a robust global measure to control international aviation emissions, ever since the UN civil aviation agency was given its mandate under the Kyoto Protocol in 1997. The differentiation principle – or common but differentiated responsibilities (CBDR) – is enshrined in the UN’s climate change framework convention of 1992 and led to developed and developing countries being assigned as either Annex 1 or non-Annex 1 respectively under the Kyoto Protocol, with Annex 1 countries given binding targets.
The Paris Agreement, which replaces the Protocol when it expires in 2020, makes no such distinction, although references to CBDR exist within the text. Article 2.2 reads: “This Agreement will be implemented to reflect equity and the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities, in the light of different national circumstances.” In addition, Article 4.4 reads: “Developed country Parties should continue taking the lead by undertaking economy-wide absolute emission reduction targets.”
The continuing reference to developed and developing countries but the absence of the term ‘historical responsibility’ and Annex 1 and non-Annex 1 means there is no definition in the Agreement of which countries are now defined as ‘developed’. This will need to be tackled at a later date but could either unblock the entrenched positions at ICAO on which countries and their carriers should be included in the MBM, as the industry believes will happen, or it could lead to further difficulties and delays in the process. ICAO has set a very tight roadmap and timelines towards agreeing an MBM proposal to put before its 191 Member States for a decision at the Assembly in September/October next year.
The issue raised its head during the two-week COP21 in Paris with statements from China and the G77 group of developing countries noting their displeasure at how they perceived CBDR was not being sufficiently acknowledged in the MBM ‘Strawman’ potential scheme presented for discussion at ICAO.
In an opening statement at the concurrent session of the Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice (SBSTA), to which ICAO and UN maritime agency IMO report their climate activities, the group expressed its “serious concerns” over the current proposal on the table, which was “not in line with the CBDR principle”, and the carbon-neutral goal of the measure, due to be introduced in 2020 (CNG2020).
China, with the support of countries such as India, has already submitted its own proposal on how the MBM burden should be shared amongst ICAO Member States. Its approach is to determine the calculation of each aircraft operator’s carbon offsetting liability after 2020 based on the proportion of its accumulative emissions in the period 1992-2020 to the global accumulative emissions in the same period (see article). Under this approach, those operators who emitted most in the past – therefore those from the developed world – would shoulder greater responsibilities. However, as already noted, the concept of historical responsibility is not mentioned in the Paris Agreement.
In its closing statement to the SBSTA session, the G77/China group said emissions from fuel used for international aviation and maritime transport “should continue to be dealt with through a multilateral process, in a manner that is open and transparent, inclusive and Party-driven.” As “Party” is the UNFCCC term for member countries, this can be construed as meaning the principles underpinning UNFCCC should have supremacy in matters concerning the regulation of international aviation emissions.
In language countries like China and India have used in the past to oppose the European Union’s inclusion of international aviation into its Emissions Trading Scheme (EU ETS), the statement added: “The Group is strongly against the imposition of unilateral measures in addressing emissions, which would be contrary to the principles of CBDR&RC [respective capabilities] and equity.” The EU has suspended the scheme’s inclusion of flights to and from airports outside Europe while the ICAO MBM negotiations are in progress but automatically snaps back into place from 2017 if no agreement is reached next year.
In another opening statement submitted by the G77/China group, they also said the international aviation and maritime emissions issue should be dealt with under SBSTA, “avoiding any attempts to include it in the ADP.”
The ADP (Ad Hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform) was established by the 2011 COP in Durban and mandated to develop what has now become the Paris Agreement.
A paragraph was included in an earlier draft agreement presented to negotiators at the beginning of COP21. In essence, it called on Parties to work through ICAO and IMO to pursue limitation or reduction of greenhouse gas emissions from their sectors “with a view to agreeing concrete measures addressing these emissions”.
During the middle of last week, the paragraph was removed from the text when a slimmed down draft was released by the French COP21 Presidency and despite a pledge by the EU to fight to have it reinserted, it did not make it back in. Although fingers may point to the objections by G77/China group as the reason for the omission, industry observers in Paris believe the answer may be more mundane and that in the course of the multilateral negotiations some items had higher priority than others. With differing views on this issue, a compromise was too difficult to reach in the short time available and so was dropped, suggested ATAG.
As international aviation is already being addressed at ICAO under the Chicago Convention, it was deemed by a number of negotiators to be not necessary to address these sectors in the agreement, it added.
“We were surprised by the lack of a mention of ICAO’s responsibility to address aviation emissions (and IMO’s for maritime) in the final Paris Agreement, despite appearing in previous drafts. Nonetheless, ICAO already has its own mandate and well-established programme for further addressing aviation and climate change, without the need for direction from COP21 or the UNFCCC.
“In the scheme of the Agreement, aviation and shipping remain a less central pillar, but of course to us aviation is the main subject – in that sense it is useful to have a separate UN agency, ICAO, devoted to exploring the complexities of dealing with the matter.”
ATAG said its preferred option of a mandatory global offsetting scheme starting in 2020 to be agreed at the next ICAO Assembly would effectively cap aviation emissions at 2020 levels, whilst the carbon offsets used would help fund climate mitigation action, predominantly in developing countries.
With a less sanguine view over the lack of mention of international aviation and shipping in the Agreement, environmental NGOs say it leaves the question of responsibility for the two sector’s emissions in limbo.
“The Agreement now leaves it unclear which actors have responsibility to reduce emissions from these sectors,” said Andrew Murphy, Aviation and Shipping Officer with Brussels-based Transport & Environment. “If ICAO and IMO wish to retain a role, they must urgently scale up their ambition.”
One of the key outcomes of the Agreement – largely secured by a new group of over 100 developed and developing countries formed during COP21 called the High Ambition Coalition – was a strengthening of climate ambition to reduce global warming to “well below” 2⁰C above pre-industrial levels “and pursuing efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5⁰C”.
“This is the new climate reality and industry will have to be more proactive, and ICAO will have to start working this into their efforts,” he said. “1.5⁰C cannot be achieved unless the sector urgently reins in its emissions.”
Despite the G77/China warnings against States taking unilateral action, Murphy believes if the two UN agencies fail to step up then States and regions will have the right to adopt measures to ensure these sectors contribute to the 1.5⁰C target. If ICAO and IMO cannot raise their game in line with the Paris ambition, they also risk losing their mandates to regulate on climate action, he warned.
UNFCCC – Paris Agreement , UNFCCC statement on Paris outcome , ATAG statement on Paris outcome , T&E statement on Paris outcome
UK Government accepts case for airport expansion but says more time needed to examine environmental impacts
Fri 11 Dec 2015 – The UK Government has accepted the case for airport expansion in the south-east of England but has postponed a decision on where that expansion should take place until the middle of next year at the earliest. The report of the Airports Commission published in the summer had firmly recommended a new third runway at Heathrow but the Government has reopened the door to the viability of two other schemes shortlisted by the Commission, a second runway at Gatwick and the extension of an existing runway at Heathrow that could simultaneously handle both incoming and outgoing aircraft. The Government says more work needs to be done to analyse the environmental impacts of the expansion proposals, in particular on local air quality and greenhouse gas emissions, and is expecting the airports to submit “ambitious solutions” to tackle the issue.
Heathrow is now all but full to capacity and Gatwick is nearing that point, concluded the 340-page final report from the Airports Commission, which was led by economist Sir Howard Davies. “There is still capacity elsewhere in the South-East for point-to-point and especially low-cost flights, but with no availability at its main hub airport, London is beginning to find that new routes to important long-haul destinations are set up elsewhere in Europe rather than in the UK,” wrote Davies in the report’s foreword.
Without quick action, the situation would continue to deteriorate and the entire London system would be full by 2040, he added. “So a new runway is needed by 2030, which means a firm decision is needed soon, as bringing it into operation will take a decade or more.”
The Government now says it agrees that more runway capacity is required by 2030 but is concerned that environmental objections could bog down the planning consent process for many years.
“The case for aviation expansion is clear – but it’s vitally important we get the decision right so that it will benefit generations to come,” said Patrick McLoughlin, Secretary of State for Transport. “We will undertake more work on environmental impacts, including air quality, noise and carbon. We must develop the best possible package of measures to mitigate the impacts on local people. We will continue work on all the shortlisted locations, so that the timetable for more capacity set out by Sir Howard is met.”
The Department for Transport said it would test the air quality analysis carried out by the Commission using the latest projected future concentrations of nitrogen dioxide. The next step is to continue to develop the best possible package of measures to mitigate the impacts on local people and the environment, said a DfT statement. This, it added, would include a package for local communities to include compensation, maximising local economic opportunities through new jobs and apprenticeships, and measures to tackle noise.
“The Government will do this quickly so that the timetable for delivering capacity set out by the Airports Commission can be met,” said the DfT.
The Commission’s report claimed that one new runway, fully utilised, was compatible with continued progress towards reducing carbon emissions and said Heathrow would need new measures to ensure acceptable air quality around the airport, which already breaches EU regulations. However, the Commission stands accused by campaign group Aviation Environment Federation (AEF) of failing to show how a new runway could be in line with Government commitments on air pollution and climate change.
“The challenges of addressing the environmental impacts of a new runway at either Heathrow or Gatwick are no less significant than they were when the [previous] Coalition Government ruled out expansion for environmental reasons in 2010,” said AEF Deputy Director, Cait Hewitt. “The current Government should do the same.”
The all-party House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee, which held an inquiry into the environmental implications of the Commission’s recommendations, advised the Government in a report last month that before making a final decision it should set out “clear and binding responsibilities and milestones to ensure environmental standards are enforced and measures can be implemented, monitored and evaluated in a timely way.” A failure to do so, it warned, could see the project caught up in protracted legal disputes, lead to environmental standards being missed and introduce an element of commercial risk.
The Committee also took issue with the Commission’s assertion that expansion was compatible with Government carbon emission policies. “This is a major concern and the Government should demonstrate at the earliest opportunity it can close that gap by setting out its approach to international negotiations on aviation emissions and putting in place a strategy to deliver aviation emissions by 2050 no higher than those in 2005,” it said.
If Heathrow was the chosen option, it called on the Government to re-examine the Commission’s findings on air quality and set out its assessment of what would be required in terms of infrastructure improvements, agreed responsibilities for funding and milestones for completion. On noise, the Committee supported the Commission’s proposed ban on night flights at Heathrow, the establishment of an independent aviation noise authority and a community engagement board, whether or not expansion was given the green light.
Meanwhile, the Chair of the House of Commons Transport Committee, Louise Ellman MP, criticised the decision to delay and said the environmental impacts of expansion were not new concerns. “The Government should have used the time since the Commission’s report to conduct the necessary environmental assessment rather than waiting until now to announce that it is going to start this work,” she said. “The Government has failed to give a firm commitment on when a decision will be taken; in the meantime our competitors will continue to build their links with emerging markets.”
Many commentators believe the delay is in large part driven by the London mayoral election next May in which the ruling Conservative party candidate is a fervent opponent to Heathrow expansion.
However, the Government’s new assertion that all three shortlisted runway proposals are still in the running, despite the Commission firmly supporting the case for a new Heathrow northwest runway, is good news for Gatwick, which has long claimed it is the only politically and environmentally viable option.
“This is a defining moment in the expansion debate. There is now a clear choice facing Britain: growth with Gatwick or inertia at Heathrow with an illegal scheme that has failed time and time again,” commented Gatwick Airport CEO Stewart Wingate on the Government announcement. “We have always maintained that this decision is about balancing the economy and the environment. Expansion at Gatwick would give the country the economic benefit it needs at a dramatically lower environmental cost.
“We are glad that the Government recognises that more work on environmental impact needs to be done. Air quality, for example, is a public health priority and obviously the legal safeguards around it cannot be wished away.
“Even Heathrow’s most vocal supporters must now realise a third runway at Heathrow will never take off as the environmental hurdles are just too high. If they want Britain to have the benefits of expansion and competition they should now look to Gatwick.”
Heathrow counters that it is fully confident that expansion can be delivered within environmental limits. The airport said it will now move into the delivery phase and put into motion “billions of pounds” of contracts to deliver what it claims will be the largest privately financed infrastructure project in the country.
“Our new plan will connect the whole nation to global growth while providing opportunities for the local community and making Heathrow the most environmentally responsible hub airport in the world,” said Heathrow Airport CEO John Holland-Kaye. “I am confident we can meet tough environmental standards.”
He told the BBC: “By making sure we can meet these standards and spending a few more months getting it right, we can avoid wasting time in judicial reviews later.”
Researchers claim to have found a new way to convert wood biowaste into jet fuel hydrocarbons
Thu 10 Dec 2015 – Researchers at Washington State University Tri-Cities (WSU) in the United States believe they have found a way to convert lignin, a common wood by-product, into the same hydrocarbon molecules that are used as jet fuel. The procedure developed by Dr Bin Yang, an associate professor of biological systems engineering, and his team converts lignin into a mix of hydrocarbons in a single reactor using appropriate catalysts, and the resulting product is then separated and purified to obtain the required jet fuel hydrocarbons. After cellulose, lignin is the most abundant renewable carbon source on Earth, according to the International Lignin Institute. Yang’s team is now working with Boeing to develop and test the discovery. Elsewhere in the Pacific Northwest, Alaska Airlines is expected to conduct a demonstration flight in 2016 using 1,000 gallons of jet biofuel derived from forest scraps.
Molecules derived from biomass currently must be combined with petroleum-based jet fuel to meet certification requirements for commercial jet fuel use. Jet fuel typically needs molecules that consist of 12 to 16 carbon atoms to fulfil jet engine requirements, said Ralph Cavalieri, Director of WSU’s Office of Alternative Energy. Gasoline requires molecules with fewer carbon atoms but is much more volatile, while diesel, which requires molecules of 16 to 20 or more carbon atoms begins to gel at cold temperatures.
Cavalieri said jet fuel requires the same nominal range of molecules as kerosene, which is not as volatile as gasoline but also does not freeze at the cold temperatures found at altitude.
“With the research being conducted by Dr Yang, it may be possible to develop a more complete suite of molecules required for turbine engine systems using only biomass feedstocks, making the process more economically feasible and efficient,” he said.
Added Yang, who holds a patent on the process: “The effort to transform lignin into higher-value products for large developed markets is critically needed. If we can make jet fuel from the biomass-derived lignin, it addresses this challenge.”
Lignin is an organic polymer that makes plants woody and rigid and is usually wasted when plant biomass, including cellulose, is converted into biofuels like ethanol. The Switzerland-based International Lignin Institute estimates between 40 and 50 million tons of lignin are produced annually worldwide, mostly as a non-commercialised waste product.
In addition to hydrocarbons suitable for jet fuel, Yang is using lignin to produce a variety of other chemicals and materials. The research is supported by various US government departments, including the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), and the Seattle-based Joint Center for Aerospace Technology Innovation.
The findings of Yang and his team are published in Green Chemistry, a journal of the Royal Society of Chemistry.
Meanwhile, the forest residues being turned into jet fuel for use in an Alaska Airlines demonstration flight next year are being provided by the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes (CSKT) and the Muckleshoot Indian Tribe through the Northwest Advanced Renewables Alliance Tribal Partnership Program (NARA TPP). The initiative is supported by a grant from the US Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA).
CSKT and Muckleshoot are among many groups of Native American forest landowners in the Pacific Northwest. The tribes have been involved in every step of the way in generating the 1,000 gallons of fuel for the flight, said NIFA, with TPP assessing the economic opportunities for the tribally-sourced biomass and developing educational opportunities for Native American students. NIFA invests in and advances agricultural research, education and extension, and seeks to make transformative discoveries that solve societal challenges, it added.