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On emission

Several new fuels are on the market – but the question for carriers continues to be price, availability and regulation. Ian Putzger reports on a growing market

GOL blazed a sweet trail over the Americas this past summer. In August, the Brazilian carrier made its first commercial flight with the newly ASTM-certified Amyris-Total alternative aviation fuel. One of the airline’s Boeing 737s flew from Orlando, FL, to Sao Paulo, Brazil, using farnesan, a biofuel derived from plant sugars.


US-based biotech company Amyris, which entered a partnership with French oil giant Total to deliver alternative jet fuel, is producing the fuel from sugarcane at its refinery in Brazil. According to the provider, farnesan, can currently be blended up to 10% with conventional jet fuels, achieving an 80% reduction in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions compared with traditional fuel.


The new fuel has also caught on across the Atlantic. In September, Lufthansa used farnesan on a flight from Frankfurt to Berlin, marking the first scheduled flight in Europe with the new fuel.


The use of alternative fuels in the industry has now entered a new phase, with this step adding a third route of biofuel generation. The breakthrough came in June when ASTM International, one of the largest standards-development organisations in the world, approved a new jet fuel specification. This development covered the fuel properties and criteria necessary to control the manufacture and quality of ‘synthesised iso-paraffinic’ (SIP) fuel, which is produced from hydroprocessed fermented sugars, for safe aviation use. Amarys has been a standard bearer for the sugar-based avenue.


ASTM’s blessing establishes SIP as the third approved pathway for production of alternative jet fuels, alongside the conversion of triacylglycerides from plant oils and animal processing waste, referred to as ‘hydroprocessed esters and fatty acids’ (HEFA), and the conversion of a variety of biomass and fossil fuel feedstocks through the Fischer-Tropsch (FT) process.


The green light for SIP drew plaudits from US airline organisation Airlines for America (A4A). “The approval of this new alternative jet fuel pathway is significant for all consumers of jet fuel. It brings the airline industry another step closer to widespread production of cleaner, alternative fuels that will help meet our environmental goals, while enhancing the security and competitiveness of our energy supply,” said Nancy Young, senior vice president for environmental affairs.


Meanwhile, Boeing is pushing for another alternative. Its involvement in various biofuel projects notwithstanding, the aircraft maker has been championing green diesel – not to be confused with bio diesel, which is chemically different. According to its researchers, this fuel emits at least 50% less CO2 than fossil fuels over its lifecycle and could be blended directly with traditional jet fuel.


Boeing has been trying to obtain approval from governments around the world to use it as jet fuel, blending it with conventional kerosene.


The chief arguments in support of green diesel are not its inherent qualities compared to those of other alternative fuels, but rather its availability and cost. It is already being produced in bulk, with a global production capacity of 800 million gallons and, according to Boeing, it prices out at $3 per gallon (including US government incentives).


“Green diesel is interesting,” remarks Tom McCartin, senior director of fuel management at Southwest Airlines. “We are curious to see where this is going to go.”


Young regards the coexistence of various forms of biofuel as a feature of the evolving landscape. “Variety is going to be part of the story. There is not going to be one winner,” she comments, adding that feedstocks for various fuel types tend to be regionally based. >>

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