Aviation Biofuels Continue to Grow

SAA747Boeing and South African Airways have announced that they will work together to develop and implement a sustainable aviation biofuel supply chain in Southern Africa, which is a first for the continent.

The companies signed a Memorandum of Understanding for sustainable aviation biofuel supply chain development at The Corporate Council on Africa’s 9th Biennial U.S.-Africa Business, attended by executives from leading U.S. and African firms and government representatives from several countries.

This collaboration between Boeing and SAA is part of the companies’ broader efforts to support environmental sustainability for the airline’s operations and the commercial aviation industry overall, in addition to advancing South Africa’s social and economic development.

Boeing has collaborated extensively with airlines, research institutions, governments and other stakeholders to develop road maps for biofuel supply chains in several countries and regions, including the United States, China, Australia and Brazil. The aerospace company’s plan to work with SAA is the first such project in Africa.

Flight tests show that biofuel, which is derived from organic sources such as plants or algae, performs as well as or better than petroleum-based jet fuel. When produced in sustainable ways, biofuel contributes far less to global climate change than traditional fuels because carbon dioxide (CO2) is pulled out of the atmosphere by a growing plant-based feedstock.

According to Enviro.Aero aircraft entering today’s fleet are well over 70% more fuel-efficient than the first jet aircraft in the 1960s, consuming an average 3.5 litres per passenger per 100km. The Airbus A380 and the Boeing 787 – consuming less than 3 litres per 100 passenger kilometres – compare favourably with small family cars.

In 2010, the commercial aviation industry produced 649 million tonnes of carbon dioxide (CO2). This is around 2% of the total man-made CO2 emissions of more than 34 billion tonnes.

Fuel is the biggest operating cost for the airline industry. The changing price of crude oil also makes it very difficult to plan and budget for operating expenses long-term. Sustainable biofuels may offer a solution to this problem since their production can be spread worldwide, and across a number of different crops, thereby reducing airlines’ exposure to the fuel cost volatility that comes with having a single energy source.

Biofuels can also provide economic benefits to parts of the world that have large amounts of land that is either unviable or marginal for food crops, but are suitable for growing second-generation biofuel crops. Many of these countries, particularly in Africa, are developing nations that could benefit greatly from a new industry such as sustainable aviation biofuel production.

Boeing and SAA believe that new developments in technology will enable the conversion of biomass into jet fuel in a more sustainable manner without competing with other sectors for food and water resources. The World Wildlife Fund-South Africa will monitor and ensure compliance to sustainability principles that would ensure that fuel is sustainable and would lead to genuine carbon reductions.

Aviation biofuel refined to required standards has been approved for a blend of up to 50 percent with traditional jet fuel. Globally, more than 1,500 passenger flights using biofuel have been flown since the fuel was approved.

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