Airline industry moving towards next generation biofuels

October 27 2008 / by Garry Golden
Category: Energy   Year: 2014   Rating: 2

Has the airline industry committed itself to the long-term transition towards bio-derived fuels with the hope of better performing biofuels that cost less than traditional hydrocarbons?

Roadmap to Future – Jet makers & Fuel designers
Although the global economic slowdown has given the airline industry a temporary reprieve from recent high energy prices, leaders have not taken their eye off the long term goal of diversifying its fuel feedstocks beyond traditional hydrocarbons. But there are still skeptics that bio-derived fuels (like biobutanol) can compete with traditional petroleum based fuels.

In September next generation biofuels startup Solazyme developed the world’s first algae-derived aviation fuel as characterized by fuel analytics lab Southwest Research Institute (SwRI). Now the Guardian (UK) is reporting on Boeing’s efforts to create next generation biofuels that could help resolve the industry’s carbon emissions liabilities, and give the aviation sector a more stable source of fuel.

Virgin Atlantic’s Richard Branson was the first to push for next generation fuels for the airline industry but his vision was met with skepticism for pundits. Boeing’s focus follows other alternative fuel initiatives by Air New Zealand (Jatropha), Japan Airlines, KLM (algae), Continental, Virgin Atlantic Airways which claims the first biofuel flight by a major airline carrier. Suddenly algae based biofuels and the promise of ‘designer’ biofuels seem more plausible than they did a few years ago.

Watching Jet & Fuel makers
Of course, nothing will happen until jet makers get involved and biofuel makers figure out a way to design fuels suitable for small aircraft and then jet engines. Several months ago Honeywell’s UOP LLC announced plans to accelerate development of legitimate biofuel substitutes. And both GE Aviation and Pratt & Whitney are working on advanced aviation fuels.

Many industry analysts are looking at partnerships with bioenergy startups. Dutch algae biofuels company AlgaeLink is working KLM airlines on a pilot project to develop alternative aviation fuels. Air New Zealand is testing non-food crop Jatropha-based biofuels. But the most widely cited startups capable of changing the biofuels market include Solazyme, LS9 and Amyris and Synthetic Genomics might be the key to the airline industry’s longer term vision of more stable feedstock for fuels.

Image credit” Rolls Royce by Mark Hillary Flickr CC License

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