Airbus confirms that its first biofuel commercial aircraft test flight will not take place until 2010
Tue 17 Feb 2009 – Aircraft manufacturer Airbus has confirmed that JetBlue will be the first Airbus operator to test a biofuel blend on one its A320 planes during the spring of next year. Airbus announced last May (see article) that it was partnering with the US low-cost carrier along with engine manufacturer International Aero Engines (IAE) and Honeywell’s fuel refining technology subsidiary UOP on the biofuel programme. Airbus believes that 30 percent of jet fuel requirements could be met by biofuels by 2030.
Similar to the stance taken by Boeing and its partners, Airbus insists that only second-generation drop-in biofuels sourced from non-food competing feedstocks will be used. Given that partner UOP has already successfully refined jet biofuel blends from a number of different feedstocks – including jatropha, camelina and algae – for the recent Boeing-led test and demonstration flights, it might be thought that a gap of a further year was unduly lengthy. However, a spokesperson for Airbus told GreenAir that there were a number of preparation tests still to be undertaken as well CO2 life-cycle validation of potential feedstocks.
“This is not that long taking into account the need to find sustainable feedstock suppliers and undertaking the required engine testing, and the need to follow the procedures of the ASTM regarding alternative fuels approval process,” she said. “We want to ensure this will be a technically meaningful test flight. Our goal is that this exercise brings us further on our alternative fuels roadmap, aiming for an eventual 100% alternative fuel flight – whether this to be GTL (gas-to-liquid), BTL (biomass-to-liquid) or second-generation biofuel, or anything that isn’t standard jet fuel. This is therefore not a one-off.”
She confirmed that feedstocks under consideration include jatropha, algae and organic waste streams, as well as ligno-cellulosic materials such as waste forest residues and corn stover, the non-edible component of corn plants.
Corn stover is made up of the leaves and stalks of corn plants that are left in the field after harvesting the edible corn grain. Researchers in the US have suggested corn stover could supply as much as 25% of the overall biofuel crop needed by 2030.
Finnish forestry and paper group UPM-Kymmene announced last week it was planning to expand into biofuel production and was currently conducting trials to produce biodiesel, bioethanol and heavy fuel oils from forest residues including tree bark, twigs and stumps. If the trials prove positive, the company aims to start commercial green fuel production from forest residues by 2012-2013. It estimates about three million tonnes of residues were likely to be sufficient to produce 200,000 tonnes of biodiesel.
“We believe there are large volumes of residues that could be used for biofuel production in Europe and elsewhere,” a company representative told Reuters. “Around half of a tree’s biomass is currently left as residue which cannot be used for timber or paper production.”
Organic waste streams are mainly composed of agricultural waste, garden and forestry waste, sludge, food processing waste and organic household waste. They are claimed to have excellent properties such as high energy density and mixability with conventional fuels, and competitive production costs.