Lufthansa Will Become First Airline Using Biofuels On A Commercially Scheduled Route

lufthansa airbus a321 photo

photo: Andres Rueda/Creative Commons
Lufthansa looks set to make aviation history: Using biofuels on a regularly scheduled route. From July 15, one Lufthansa Airbus A321 will ply the 244 miles route from Frankfurt to Hamburg with one engine burning petroleum-based fuel and the other burning biofuel supplied by Finland's Neste Oil. Eight of the airlines' daily 28 flights on the route will be powered by biofuels.Smart Planet reports that Lufthansa has already purchase enough of Neste's NExBTL biofuel to cover flights for the next six months.

As for the feedstock used for this fuel, Neste says this particular blend is made from a "flexible mix of both vegetable oils and animal fats" and results in a 40-60% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions compared to fossil fuels.

Of course, considering that on these flights it's being used in a 50-50 blend, so greenhouse gas emissions from these eight flights should be 20-30% lower than they previously were.

But that's the top-line, promotional reading of the situation. In fact, as has been well documented, the exact emission reductions from using biofuels hugely depends on the specific feedstocks used. Some offer very much genuine reductions while others, such as palm oil, often actually increase greenhouse gas emissions by a factor of ten.

Neste in the past has been targeted by campaigners for its use of palm oil in its biofuels--both for the increase in emissions resulting from chopping down Southeast Asian rainforest to grow palm oil and because of the very real threats to several endangered species that results.

These so-called indirect land-use changes are at the center of an ongoing debate in the EU about biofuels, with recent European Commission studies showing that in some cases the environmental harm caused by growing biofuels at scale sufficient to supply our demand for liquid fuels outweighs the benefits of abandoning petroleum-based fuels.

Though in this case the exact blend is not known--"We have to leave some news for the day" a a Lufthansa spokesperson said--the good news is that palm oil is not in the blend.

Less good news is that animal fats might be involved.

Exemplified by Dynamic Fuels, the Tyson Foods-Syntroleum joint venture in Louisiana which supplied fuel to the recent KLM passenger-carrying flight from Paris to the Netherlands, inedible animal fat byproducts from factory farming are processed into biofuel.

As I've commented before, though normally I would side with those people saying fully utilizing waste products is good environmental practice, when those waste products are the result of factory farming (and are likely only financially viable as a feedstock when factory farming generates them in such concentrations) I simply cannot support them. The byproduct of a categorically awful environmental and animal welfare practice simply cannot be called anything less awful than the source.

More on Aviation Biofuels
KLM Completes First Biofuel-Powered Scheduled Flight, With Factory Farmed Fuel
World's First Flight Powered by 100% Algae Biofuel Completed

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