Biofuel takes off
After large-scale collaborations between aircraft and engine manufacturers, oil companies, and airlines, aviation biofuel first entered commercial use in 2011. Since then, airlines including Lufthansa, KLM, Finnair and Air Alaska have begun using biofuels on certain commercial flights.
Abu Dhabi carrier Etihad has now joined airlines committed to the commercialisation of biofuel in an initiative with Boeing and Total, with a successful test flight containing 10% biofuel obtained from used cooking oil in a process called hydro-treatment. The airline previously flew from Seattle to Abu Dhabi using a blend of biofuel which has subsequently been approved for use at up to a 50/50 blend with regular jet fuel.
Biofuels are one of the most promising solutions to meet the industry’s ambitious carbon emissions reduction goals, and researchers have suggested that biofuels could eventually allow a reduction in aviation carbon emissions by up to 80%. Sustainable sources of biofuel include algae, cooking oil, municipal waste biomass and the Jatropha plant (which can be grown on degraded lands and is resistant to drought).
While alternatives such as solar, electric, and hydrogen propelled aircraft are also being researched, it is not expected they will be feasible in the near or medium term due to aviation’s need for high power to weight ratio and globally compatible infrastructure. As the contribution to greenhouse gas emissions by the aviation industry is reportedly growing apace, using biofuel is one of the only short term options the aviation industry has for reducing its carbon footprint.