photo: Francois Roche
Considering the rising awareness of the growing impact on aviation on greenhouse gas emissions, developing a biofuel suitable for use in airplanes and which can be produced in large enough quantities seems to be the holy grail for a number of firms.
And though they themselves don’t produce any fuel, in a move which perhaps they hope is a self-fulfilling prophesy, airplane manufacturer Boeing has said that within three years using biofuel blends to power commercial aircraft could become normal (The Guardian).
Interestingly, a Boeing representative framed the issue in the context of cerfitification rather than supply:Certification to Come Within 3-5 Years
The certification will happen much sooner than anybody thought. We are thinking that within three to five years we are going to see approval for commerical use of biofuels, and possibly sooner.
Supply A Greater Issue Than Certification
Fair enough, but Boeing does recognize that it really isn’t certification which is the barrier to widespread adoption of biofuels in aviation (or for terrestrial transport for that matter), it’s being able to produce enough biomass to supply the ever-growing demand.
Currently, there are some 13,000 airplanes in the world’s commerical fleet, and to supply them all with soybean-based fuel would require an area of land the size of Europe just dedicated to soya cultivation (The Guardian).
Perhaps The Guardian’s example is bit extreme: There are higher yielding crops than soya; algae could yield that amount of fuel on a much smaller area of land, though that technology isn’t yet up to a commerical challenge on that scale.
Sustainability Issues The Same As Other Biofuels
Furthermore, all of the questions surrounding first generation biofuels that apply to ground transport also apply to aviation: taking land away from food crops, land use changes leading to net increases in carbon emissions, working conditions (especially in parts of the developing world).
Certainly everything that can be done to green flying should be done, and research into developing alternatives to propelling aircraft with fossil fuels should continue, but getting a biofuel certified for use in aircraft really seems to be the least of the hurdles to be cleared.
via: The Guardian
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