Entering the Age of BIO Fuels

A look at the progress of a viable alternative to petroleum-based aviation fuel

Efforts to improve aviation’s environmental performance and reduce its impact on the planet’s ecosystem have increased in recent years, yet the challenges remain the same. Primary to environmental sustainability in commercial aviation is the development of a ‘drop-in’ bio-derived alternative to the typical fossil fuel-based jet-A. Industry players are partnering up to address challenges which include certification and a cost-effective process by which to supply and manufacture the product. AIRPORT BUSINESS spoke to a trade group, an aircraft manufacturer, a fuel company, and a biofuel producer about what it will take to make a commercial aviation biofuel a reality.

The Geneva-based Air Transport Action Group (ATAG) recently published a comprehensive report, the Beginner’s Guide to Aviation Biofuels, to inform industry employees and members of the flying public about a “new age in flight,” according to the group. ATAG is a global organization which represents all parts of the commercial aviation and air transport sector.

ATAG’s guide to aviation biofuels provides an outline of the benefits for the aviation industry in moving to a cleaner source of fuel, the safety and technical criteria for a sustainable biofuel, and the testing process by which a particular biofuel is evaluated.

“The guide is our contribution to the aviation biofuel initiative,” says ATAG head of communications Haldane Dodd. “There is no real technical work ATAG is doing; a lot of that is being done principally at the moment by the Boeing Company.”

From an airport perspective, says Dodd, who has an airport background and was previously employed with Airports Council International, “ What we are looking at as an industry are drop-in biofuels. We are not looking to replace the infrastructure. That is an important thing for airports to know…we are not looking to have different hydrant systems to the aircraft, or different fuel farms; this can all fit into the current fuel supply.”

“This is important from an airport, airline, and aircraft manufacturers perspective. We do not want to have to modify any equipment; it is basically jet fuel that comes from a different source.”

Director of biofuel strategy for Boeing, Darrin Morgan, agrees.

“The technology exists today to create a bio-derived synthetic parraffinic kerosene (Bio-SPK) fuel that performs exactly, and in some cases better, than traditional jet fuel,” says Morgan. “We need to take advantage of that technology that provides those performance benefits without any incurred cost to operators to augment their aircraft engines.”

Bio-SPK refers to a synthetic paraffinic kerosene produced from a bio-derived oil source, or aviation fuel that contains predominantly paraffins produced from non-petroleum feedstocks. A second-generation biofuel (biofuels which are produced using a sustainable resource), Bio-SPK is an end product that contains the same types of molecules that are typically found in conventional petroleum-based jet fuel, according to Boeing’s Bio-SPK evaluation report released last June.

From a supply standpoint, Morgan also agrees with ATAG stating that from the beginning, one of the primary requirements has been that any jet fuel alternative must be a drop-in solution, meaning it must work within the existing aviation fuel infrastructure without any necessary modifications.

The whole point behind a drop-in fuel is that it needs to be almost chemically the same as traditional jet fuel, says Dodd. “It’s an important point that we don’t have to replace or modify the current supply infrastructure in any way; certainly at any operational level at an airport,” says Dodd. “Any of that work would be done further down the path back towards the supply.”

ATAG’s Beginners Guide to Aviation Biofuels can be found at: www.enviro.aero/biofuels.

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