SpiceJet operates India's first biofuel-powered flight as Indonesia seeks US and European help on palm oil biojet
A SpiceJet Bombardier Q400
Mon 3 Sept 2018 – Low-cost carrier SpiceJet last week operated India’s first test flight powered by biojet fuel. A Bombardier Q400 aircraft flew the 236-kilometre route from Dehradun in the norther part of India to the capital New Delhi using a 75/25 blend of conventional jet kerosene and a biofuel sourced from the jatropha crop. The biofuel was developed by the CSIR-Indian Institute of Petroleum (CSIR-IIP), one of the constituent laboratories of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research based in Dehradun. The airline says the fuel meets the ASTM specification and the Pratt & Whitney and Bombardier standards for commercial aircraft application. Meanwhile, Reuters reports that Indonesia has asked for its companies be allowed to build palm oil-based jet biofuel plants in the US and France as a condition for its airlines to buy Boeing and Airbus aircraft.
The 25-minute SpiceJet biojet flight, which the airline says has the potential to reduce carbon emissions by 15%, was seen off at Dehradun and welcomed in New Delhi by local and national government officials and aviation representatives.
“This fuel is low cost and helps in significantly reducing carbon emissions,” said Ajay Singh, SpiceJet’s Chairman and Managing Director. “It has the potential to reduce our dependence on traditional aviation fuel by up to 50% on every flight and bring down fares. India is the fastest growing aviation market in the world today and it is our responsibility to grow using clean and sustainable technologies.”
According to a Bloomberg report, Transport Minister Nitin Gadkari said India will soon announce a policy on the use of aviation biofuel to reduce oil imports. Conventional jet fuel, the price of which is already on the rise, attracts sales taxes and excise duties totalling as high as 44% in some Indian states, so making it the costliest in Asia and accounting for around 40% of total airline operating costs. The government is proposing to bring jet fuel under the national Goods and Services Tax to make it uniform across the country. However, an additional tariff could be introduced to make up any shortfall in government revenues, says Bloomberg.
“Given the social benefits of biojet fuel, such as increasing farmers’ income who grow the feedstocks for this fuel, the government could find a way to make it tax-free,” suggested Singh.
In addition to the use of biofuels, SpiceJet says it has placed an order for 205 fuel-efficient Boeing 737 Max aircraft that will further reduce fuel consumption by around 15%, which it claims will put the airline ahead of IATA aviation emissions targets.
CSIR-IIP says its biojet production involves a hydrocracking process with an in-house developed non-precious metal-based catalyst.
Following a visit by Indonesia’s trade minister, Enggartiasto Lukita, to the United States last month, Reuters reports he told the US Commerce Secretary that Indonesian companies should be allowed to produce jet biofuel in the US, with “all raw materials” being sourced from Indonesia. Local media in Indonesia have reported the trade minister met with Boeing during the trip and asked the airplane manufacturer for its cooperation in developing palm-based jet fuel. Lukita told reporters Indonesia had also conveyed the same requirement to Airbus.
Both Boeing and Airbus have not responded to the reports, mindful of the controversy surrounding palm oil sustainability and a reluctance, if not refusal, of airlines, particularly in the West, to consider using it in jet biofuels. As the world’s biggest producers of palm oil, Indonesia is seeking new markets for the product as it faces new US anti-dumping tariffs on its biodiesel and a recent EU decision to phase out the use of palm oil in transport fuels from 2030 over environmental concerns.
In 2013, the Indonesian government initiated a national plan, the Green Aviation Initiatives for Sustainable Development, which mandated a 2% use of biofuels in all jet fuel consumption from 2016 and 3% from 2020 that was to be sourced from local palm oil (see article). The government estimated at the time that around $500 million would be needed to get commercial production off the ground, which would come from regional and national governments, the private sector, and international support funds and climate finance. Despite an agreement signed in late 2013 between government ministries to develop a supply chain that would involve the aviation industry, fuel producers and researchers, little has come from it.