While advances in green transportation have allowed you to enjoy the far fewer trips to the gas station to fill up your hybrid, there is still little you can do to reduce the carbon footprint of the jet you took to see the family over the holidays. Luckily, the airlines themselves have put quite a bit of focus on this recently – with buzz about biofuels taking front and center. If you hated seeing the rising price of a full tank of gas on your car, imagine the shock and awe factor for airlines.
German airline Lufthansa is one of the leaders looking for alternatives, and capped off their successful six month study testing biosynthetic fuel with a transatlantic flight to the U.S. recently. In just the Boeing 747-400’s trip from Frankfurt to Washington, 38 tons of CO2 were saved by using the biofuel mix.
During Lufthansa’s burnFAIR project, their Airbus A321 flew back and forth between Hamburg and Frankfurt 1,187 times with one engine running on a 50/50 mix of biofuel and conventional kerosene and the other engine on conventional fuel. The purpose of the six month study was to gain experience and long-term data on the effects of biofuel on the environment as well as maintenance and engine life expectancy.
Lufthansa’s interest in reducing their footprint is in line with the International Air Transport Association’s (IATA) self-imposed goals to reach CO2-neutral growth by 2020 and achieve a 50% reduction in CO2 emissions from 2005 levels by 2050. The question of whether biofuels are a viable route to do this has spurred quite a bit of mixed opinions. Other airlines including United Airlines, American Airlines and Alaska Airlines have also begun their own biofuel flights as they study viability.
With the use of biofuels, issues abound often over the impact of resources used to produce that biomass. If the biomass is taking away from food production or grown on cleared rainforest land like the commonly used palm oil, then the positives quickly diminish.
Lufthansa used Camelina oil as the main biofuel component, which is becoming a popular choice since it can be grown on existing fields between the main crop so it doesn’t interfere with food production. Other airlines are exploring their biofuel options as well, with United Airlines choosing algae-derived jet fuel while Alaska Airlines is going the cooking oil route.
Because of this potentially huge market, many companies are on the hunt for a viable, sustainable way to produce biofuel. The big question is whether they’ll be able to do it in large enough quantities to make it a viable option for airlines and other industries.
As Lufthansa’s Joachim Buse said, they’re still not sold on viability. “As a next step, we will focus on the suitability, availability, sustainability and certification of raw materials. But first we must tap into this market. However, Lufthansa will only continue the practical trial if we are able to secure the volume of sustainable, certified raw materials required in order to maintain routine operations.”