More collaborative efforts to expedite biojet commercialization

By Bryan Sims | March 27, 2012

More collaborative efforts have been forged between major commercial airlines and participating stakeholders to accelerate the development and commercialization of drop-in, affordable and sustainably sourced aviation biofuel.

Three of the world’s leading airframe manufacturers—Airbus, Boeing and Embraer—are setting aside competition in the market for the sake of standing united in an effort to seek collaborative opportunities with government entities, biofuel producers and other key stakeholders to support, promote and accelerate the availability of sustainable jet fuel sources. Boeing Commercial Airplanes President and CEO Jim Albaugh, Airbus President and CEO Tom Enders and Embraer Commercial Aviation President Paulo Cesar Silva all signed the agreement at the Air Transport Action Group Aviation and Environment Summit in Geneva earlier this month.

“There are times to compete and there are times to cooperate,” Albaugh stated. “Two of the biggest threats to our industry are the price of oil and the impact of commercial air travel on our environment. By working with Airbus and Embraer on sustainable biofuels, we can accelerate their availability and reduce our industry’s impacts on the planet we share.”

The collaboration agreement supports the aviation industry’s multipronged approach to achieve carbon-neutral growth beyond 2020 and halving industry emissions by 2050 based on 2005 levels.

“We’ve achieved a lot in the last 10 years in reducing our industry’s CO2 footprint—a 45 percent traffic growth with only 3 percent more fuel consumption,” Enders said. “The production and use of sustainable quantities of aviation biofuels is key to meeting our industry’s ambitious CO2 reduction targets and we are helping to do this through research and technology by expanding network of worldwide value chains and supporting the EU commission towards its target of 4 percent of biofuel for aviation by 2020.”

Silva said, “We are all committed to take a leading role in the development of technology programs that will facilitate aviation biofuels development and actual application faster than if we were doing it independently. Few people know that Brazil’s well known automotive biofuels program started within our aeronautical research community, back in the 1970s, and we will keep on making history.”

All three companies are affiliate members of the Sustainable Aviation Fuel Users Group, which includes 23 leading airlines responsible for approximately 25 percent of annual aviation fuel use.

Boeing and Embraer are already collaborating on how to establish a sustainable aviation biofuels industry in Brazil, exploring new technology pathways to broaden biofuel sourcing and availability. Boeing and Airbus are also active around the world helping to establish regional supply chains, while the three manufacturers have all supported numerous biofuel flights since global fuel standards bodies granted their approval for commercial use last year.

Meanwhile, Airbus joined a consortium that includes Virgin Australia to evaluate the commercial economic viability for sustainably harvesting eucalyptus mallee trees where the material would be used as feedstock for the production of biojet fuel via a thermal conversion route such as pyrolysis.

Indigenous to Australia, eucalyptus malle trees are grown in the country’s western wheat belt. Additionally, they’re highly touted as a suitable, sustainable crop because of its ability to return salt-affected land to a productive state. Mallee can also be planted on farms alongside crops and provide a range of environmental benefits and contribute to the long-term sustainability of the overall farming operation.

While the pyrolysis thermal conversion process has yet to be recognized by the world’s fuels standards authorities, Airbus’ role will be to support the approval and certification process so that biojet fuel derived from the pyrolysis conversion process can be used for the first time in commercial aviation.

The consortium also includes participation from Future Farm Industries CRC, which is developing sustainable farming systems as part of the Australian Government’s Cooperative Research Centres program. The sustainability analysis will be managed by the CRC, Airbus and the UK’s Manchester Metropolitan University.

The partnership agreement aims to develop a pilot biojet fuel production facility in Australia by next year and is part of Airbus’ ambitious goal to have in place a value chain in every continent this year. So far, Airbus has value chains established in Latin America, Europe, the Middle East and now Australia.

“Alternative fuels are a crucial part of the roadmap for sustainable aviation, and to help meet our ambitious CO2 reduction targets,” Enders said. “We are privileged to be working with our Australian partners in this exciting value chain project.”

Sean Donohue, executive of operations for Virgin Australia Group, added, “In order to produce a biofuel that can be used sustainably in our current aircraft, it is important to have members from every part of the supply chain involved. Airbus will bring vast expertise in aircraft manufacturing to the consortium and we are very pleased to have a company of its caliber joining the promising Australian project.”