Confirmed: Biofuels Better Than Fossil Fuels in Jet Engines - Scaling Them Up is the Major Problem

Data on biofuel test flights than took place nearly six months ago (Continental Airlines' flight took place in January and JAL's a bit more recently) is resurfacing at the Paris Air Show.

The gist of it is something that has been repeatedly highlighted in the intervening months, that biofuels perform as well or slightly better than fossil fuels in jet engines, with Continental saying that their biofuel blend increased fuel efficiency by 1.1%. But that doesn't mean that we're really much closer to wide-scale use.

Writing in Yale Environment 360, David Biello really sums up well the nut that's got to be cracked:

The overwhelming challenge is how to produce enough biofuel to supply even a fraction of the more than 60 billion gallons of jet fuel burned every year by the world’s aircraft. Relying heavily on biofuels made from food crops — such as soybeans, sugar cane, or canola — would not only affect food supplies and increase food prices, but would produce significant greenhouse gases during the planting and harvesting of these crops, as well as from forest clearing for more agricultural land. Non-food plant sources, such as jatropha and camelina, are promising, but difficult to produce in large quantities and can end up displacing food crops or lead to deforestation if the price of fuel rises high enough. Finally, making large amounts of jet fuel from algae represents a major hurdle, from perfecting the algae’s growth to extracting the oil cost-effectively.

Certification Could Come as Soon as 2010
Problems of scale and source aside though, progress is being made on getting bio-aviation fuel certified. Biofuels Digest reports that Boeing anticipates the fuel, which is formally known as Bio-SPK, may be certified as soon as 2010.

Furthermore UOP Honeywell, another member of the consortium of airlines and manufacturers trying to get more biofuels in flight, says it hopes to begin licensing its technology for producing Bio-SPK by the end of the summer.

All told, Billy Glover, Boeing Commercial Airplanes' Managing Director for Environmental Strategy says that in the long term biofuels could replace 40-70% of the fuels used in commercial aviation.

Biofuels Make Serious Reductions to Flying's Carbon Emissions
Which is good news indeed considering that tests show that the carbon emissions from flying can be reduced 84% using cameline-based jet fuel; and that results from the aforementioned Continental Airlines flight and from an Air New Zealand test flight late in 2008 show that the blend of biofuel and conventional jet fuel they used reduced emissions by at least 60%.

photo: Nick Holland via flick
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Tags: Airlines | Airplanes | Air Travel | Biofuels | Carbon Emissions | Renewable Energy

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