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Will Biofuels Be the Future of Aviation?

01 Mar 15:00 by Steve Walia

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Although the aviation industry isn't at a point where it can replace traditional jet fuel, there are signs that the use of biofuel is being taken increasingly seriously. The sector is already known for its gas-guzzling credentials - taking up to 10pc of the total energy needed by the wider transportation sector annually. It also emits greenhouse gases in large amounts, and regulators and airlines have been working to reduce these over time with the use of alternative fuels, such as biofuel blended drop-ins.

Airlines such as British Airways, EasyJet, KLM and United Airlines have already signed up to programmes to limit their greenhouse gas emissions in the next two decades, using sustainable fuels alongside measures that help to cut jet fuel consumption overall through more efficient practices.

Ideas being discussed in the industry include optimising flight plans, using airplanes which are naturally more fuel-efficient and switching off engines whilst planes are waiting at airports. Projects to develop ever more viable biofuels for aviation are also in progress, with experiments looking at hydro-treated oils and fermented fuels amongst others. 

United Airlines is one example of a company leading the way in fleet biofuel adoption and already using biofuel blends instead of regular jet fuels on its short-haul flights in the USA. It plans to roll this approach out to its global network in time. It now uses 30pc biofuels to 70pc conventional fuels overall.

Biofuels are expected to be the aviation fuels that will see the biggest growth in sales, with other fuel types such as LNG and CNG also being considered. Biofuel feedbacks such as sugar crops, camellia and cereals are high in availability, although there are still barriers in their full commercial development - namely storage temperature issues and profitable production mechanisms.