Pioneers strengthen case for biofuel

07 February 2018
Oslo Gardermoen was the first airport in the world to supply jet biofuel (Air BP Biojet) via the main hydrant system. Source: Air BP

Technical feasibility barriers have been surmounted, and biofuels are showing their worth to airlines and airports

The rise of biofuels for aviation, as viable complements or alternatives to fossil fuels, is the result of a decade-long effort. Stakeholders in the airline and energy industry around the world have studied and proved the long-term viability and profitability of the enterprise.

“Around 10 years ago we first realised that it was technically feasible to use a biofuel to power aircraft,” said Mike Lakeman, Associate Technical Fellow at Boeing and an expert in clean energy.

Considerable progress has been made in the past 10 years to prove the business benefits of biofuels for aviation. (Getty Images)Considerable progress has been made in the past 10 years to prove the business benefits of biofuels for aviation. (Getty Images)

“We [Boeing] had the initial demonstration flights in 2009 with Air New Zealand, Continental, and Japan Airlines — and the very first flight in 2008 was Virgin Atlantic,” he noted to Jane’s . “They proved to the world that what we thought was impossible was going to be technically feasible.”

The Virgin Atlantic test flight, which used a fuel blend derived from Brazilian babassu nuts and coconuts, was greeted with scepticism even by environmentalists, who regarded it as a publicity stunt. Others questioned whether sustainable aviation fuel could be produced affordably, in volume with the same operating properties as traditional Jet A. Lakeman confided that proving the long-term feasibility required overcoming “a raft of challenges”, both technical and political.

Today, aircraft regularly use a blend of biofuel and fossil fuel that benefits airlines and the environment – and airports are active in the supply chain.

In January 2016, Oslo Gardermoen Airport in Norway became the first in the world to deliver Air BP Biojet fuel via its main fuel hydrant system. It was introduced as a drop-in fuel, and required no special handling or segregated storage infrastructure.

This was the first occasion when aviation biofuel was delivered via a conventional supply method. David Gilmour, then CEO of Air BP, said he expected the use of existing physical infrastructure to deliver biofuel “will increase interest and demand, as well as contributing to a sustainable biofuel future for the aviation sector”.

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