Is Sustainable Fuel a Reality?

by Richard Zaher / Oct 17, 2018

Aircraft Contrail
Aircraft contrail against a blue sky. Picture Source.

Pollution and sustainability are huge issues in the aviation industry. For every enthusiast championing the magnificence of flying, there’s another voice chanting for change.

Concerns about the impact the amount of aircraft flying daily can have on the environment continue to grow, even though the aviation industry has made strides to reduce the impact on the environment. For instance, the Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation (CORSIA)  which is coming into effect from 2020 will massively offset the impact of airlines’ emissions.

Also, specific aircraft have been created with pollution in mind. Take NASA’s ‘Double-Bubble’ D8 aircraft, which was designed with the aim of reducing noise pollution and fuel consumption.

A New Kind of Fuel

Neste Clean Fuel
Neste and Air BP enter into innovative industry collaboration to support sustainable aviation fuel supply chain development. Picture Source.

Clearly, pollution and sustainability are big issues. The next logical step, it seems, is to tackle fuel efficiency itself. This is exactly the thinking behind a joint venture from Neste and Air BP. The two companies have linked up to create a strategy which makes sustainable aviation fuel more widely available, replacing existing fossil fuel.

Neste already has decades of experience with blending sustainable jet fuel, and Air BP are efficiency specialists in creating supply chains. With a project of this magnitude, the two will complement each other perfectly. That’s certainly what Neste’s Executive Vice President in Renewable Products, Kaisa Hietala, seems to think.

‘Working together, we can find the best ways of developing robust supply chains to ensure that renewable jet fuel is more widely accessible,’ said Ms Hietala.

‘We expect our collaboration will not only be able to provide a solution to better matching supply to increased demand for renewable jet fuel but also deliver distinct advantages to airlines by significantly decreasing their environmental footprint.’

Changing the Industry

So how exactly will the new fuel work? And what kind of effect could it have on the industry?

C-141 Starlifter Contrail
C-141 Starlifter Contrail. Picture Source.

The key is to look at what sustainable fuels are made from. A lot of renewable energy sources are made from waste, and such aviation fuels are no different. According to some supporters of the movement, using waste based fuels could mean a reduction of as much as 60% in carbon emissions.

Instead of using regular techniques and resources, the fuel is created by using a mixture of regular kerosene with renewable hydrocarbons. These can be found in our everyday items such as cooking oil, making them more common than you may think. This mixture qualifies as an A1 type fuel, which means companies and private flyers have permission to use it freely. The production technique can massively reduce the consumption of crude oil, ultimately leading to decreasing greenhouse gas emissions.

The move comes amid increasing pressure on the industry as a whole to provide new solutions to fight climate change. Indeed, this latest venture from Neste and Air BP is not the only potential modification of fossil fuels. There are many different types of sustainable energy sources under way.

Drop-in fuels have similar properties to conventional fuels, but they aren’t made from petroleum. This is an easy fit for existing aircraft, and therefore an appealing option for private jet owners who want a one-fit solution for their existing models.

The most important thing is that there are alternatives to modern fuels, that are not made from petroleum – and are a renewable energy source, meaning they can provide a long-term solution that will help decrease our carbon footprint.

‘Support Across the Entire Supply Chain’

It won’t be easy though. Just because something is better for the environment it doesn’t mean companies will be happy to use it. Any company looking to create a more viable power source for the future will have to combat the existing producers of traditional aircraft fuels.

Air BP Chief Executive Officer Jon Platt aired similar thoughts. He stressed that the aim was to ‘continue to support our customers with their low carbon ambitions’, whilst acknowledging the tricky road ahead:

‘The aviation industry’s carbon reduction targets can only be achieved with support from across the entire supply chain and, by bringing our experience and expertise together, we are looking to drive change by promoting and securing the supply of sustainable aviation fuel.’

But there are already signs that companies will be forced to change their current fuel habits, even if they don’t decide to do so themselves. Leading the way is the Norwegian government, which is planning to implement new rules starting from 2020 for all airlines. These rules will ensure that airlines meet minimum requirements in terms of how much sustainable fuel is used in their aircraft.

First Transatlantic Flight

Richard Branson & Virgin Atlantic
Virgin Atlantic recently completed the airline’s initial commercial transatlantic flight using sustainable biofuel. Picture Source.

Many companies are taking the initiative to come up with their own solutions. Richard Branson’s Virgin Atlantic is known for being a forward-thinking company, so it’s no surprise to see that they’re also heavily involved in the sustainable fuel business. In fact, Virgin Atlantic recently completed the airline’s initial commercial transatlantic flight using sustainable biofuel.

The fuel itself was created using waste and industrial gases, making it vastly more sustainable than traditional fuels. And the flight was a resounding success, which certainly bodes well for the future.

Whether the solution comes from the merged business venture between Neste and Air BP, Virgin Atlantic, or another source in the aviation industry, it certainly looks like sustainable fuel is going to play a huge role in the future.

Companies are already eager to show that they’re environmentally conscious, demonstrated recently by a major international crackdown on the use of products which use unnecessary plastic. If this pattern is anything to go by, we could expect to be flying with sustainable fuel sooner rather than later.

About Richard Zaher

Richard Zaher Richard Zaher is the founder and CEO of Paramount Business Jets. He is a pilot and the President of Air Charter Association of North America (ACANA). Richard is a graduate of Embry Riddle Aeronautical University (ERAU) with a Bachelor of Science in Aerospace Studies. A seasoned international jet charter expert, entrepreneur, humanitarian, and the recipient of the Embry Riddle Eagle Excellence Award at the 2012 National Business Aviation Association (NBAA) convention. He is also an active member of the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA) as well as several safety and air charter organizations.

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