Industry, airlines and environmental organizations join forces to form sustainable aviation fuels group
Jatropha plants (photo: Boeing)
Thu 25 Sept 2008 – Boeing, Honeywell’s fuel processing technology subsidiary UOP and nine airlines have set up the Sustainable Aviation Fuel Users Group to accelerate the development and commercialization of sustainable new aviation biofuels. Two environmental organizations, WWF and the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), have agreed to provide support and advice. The initiative, says the group, makes commercial aviation the first global transportation sector to voluntarily drive sustainability practices into its fuel supply chain.
The airlines involved include Air France, Air New Zealand, ANA, Cargolux, Gulf Air, Japan Airlines, KLM, SAS and Virgin Atlantic, who collectively account for around 15% of commercial jet fuel use.
The group’s charter is to enable the commercial use of renewable fuel sources that can reduce greenhouse gas emissions, while lessening commercial aviation’s exposure to oil price volatility and dependence on fossil fuels. Members have pledged to use only sustainable biofuels that perform as well as, or better, than kerosene-based fuel. They must also come from sources that require minimal land, water and energy to produce, and don’t compete with food or fresh water resources. The cultivation and harvesting of plant stocks must also provide socioeconomic value to local communities.
“We welcome the aviation sector’s will to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions and appreciate the efforts to ensure the sustainability of its biofuels sourcing,” said Jean-Philippe Denruyter, WWF’s Global Bioenergy Coordinator and Steering Board member of the Roundtable on Sustainable Biofuels. “By teaming up with the Roundtable, the sector can build on an existing solid multi-stakeholder process that will reinforce this initiative.”
Billy Glover, Managing Director, Environmental Strategy for Boeing Commercial Airplanes, said: “This is a tremendous opportunity for leading airlines, supported by well-respected energy and environmental organizations, to help commercial aviation take control of its future fuel supply in terms of origin, sustainability and environmental impacts. The number one priority is to complete thorough assessments of sustainable plant sources, harvesting and economic impacts, and processing technologies that can help achieve that goal.”
Jean-Cyril Spinetta, the Chairman and CEO of Air France said his airline was committed to aviation’s sustainable development. “In this way, Air France actively supports this innovative programme for biofuels while preserving the environment and conserving food production.”
“We have for many years been part of a number of research and development projects regarding renewable biofuels, with the aim of finding a long-term solution for aviation,” said Niels Eirik Nertun, Environment Director, SAS Group. “We can bring this experience into the group and we will now focus on together finding durable and lasting solutions for the future.
“One of the SAS Group’s six environmental goals is to be amongst the first airlines to use renewable biofuels for commercial flights. This is in line with our environmental strategy, which includes halving our greenhouse gas emission per passenger kilometre by 2020. Now we are one step closer to realizing our environmental goals.”
Bjorn Naf, CEO of Gulf Air, commented: “Gulf Air has always been a pioneering airline, and this agreement underlines our commitment to actually tackling climate change through the introduction of clean and green technologies. The airline’s goals for innovation, sustainability and greener flying are bold and comprehensive. By being actively involved in this biofuel initiative, Gulf Air believes it can play a key role in addressing today’s environmental challenges, and help build a better future for our children, the local community and the world.”
The airline’s Chief Strategy Officer, Tero Taskila, who is heading the biofuel project as part of the airline's newly-launched corporate social responsibility initiative, said: “Our long term CSR vision combines economic benefit with conservation and sustainability. The biofuel programme is one of our first initiatives towards achieving our vision, which we hope in the long run will result in substantial return on investment for all the stakeholders.
“Airlines that have introduced next generation sustainability programmes have already seen substantial cost savings while efficiently managing their carbon footprint.”
The new group has announced two research projects that will assess the suitability and sustainability of two biomass-derived fuels. With funding from Boeing, Assistant Professor Rob Bailis of Yale University’s School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, will conduct a peer-reviewed sustainability assessment of the jatropha curcas plant to include lifecycle CO2 emissions and the socio-economic impacts to farmers in developing nations. NRDC will conduct a comprehensive assessment of algae to ensure it meets the stringent sustainability criteria set by the group.
“This taskforce comes at just the right time to help airlines cut costs and decrease their greenhouse gas emissions,” said Liz Barratt-Brown, senior attorney at NRDC. “If done right, sustainable biofuels could lower the airlines’ carbon footprint at a time when all industries need to be moving away from fuels with high levels of GHG emissions, especially high-carbon tar sands and liquid coal.”
Jennifer Holmgren, General Manager for UOP’s Renewable Energy & Chemicals unit said: “The use of second-generation feedstocks is the only way that biofuels will successfully make an impact on the growing demand for transportation fuels without taxing valuable food, land and water resources. We are proud to be a part of this team and are committed to commercializing biofuels technologies that use second generation resources to produce the highest quality fuel compatible with today’s infrastructure and aircraft technology.”