May 20, 2008 Virgin Atlantic and Boeing launched the world's first commercial airline flight on biofuel earlier this year, then Continental Airlines joined the push towards alternative fuels and now Airbus has announced that it will partner with Honeywell, IAE and JetBlue in order to develop a sustainable second-generation biofuel for use in commercial aircraft.
The alternative fuel partnership is being driven by a desire by Airbus to help the aviation sector prosper with less impact on the environment. The companies' joint activity will help develop renewable energy technology to convert vegetation - and algae-based oils into aviation fuels. With much controversy surrounding food-based biofuel crops such as ethanol, the focus will be on non-food-crop biomass fuels. Aside from their environmental benefits, they are believed to provide a better fuel-to-emissions lifecycle than current kerosene. This second-generation bio-jet fuel will be produced using technology developed by Honeywell's UOP, a creator of technology and products for the refining industry. UOP has developed a process to convert biological material into renewable jet fuel that performs identically to traditional fuels while meeting the stringent performance specifications for flight.
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Over the last 40 years, the aviation industry has reduced fuel burn by 70%, however the sector is still a major global contributor of greenhouse gas emissions. Sebastien Remy, Head of Alternative Fuels Research Programs for Airbus, said that demand for aircraft fuel is growing and in order to replace a significant portion of that jet fuel with bio-jet, they need to find something that has much greater yield than the current biomass sources available. “Airbus believes that second-generation bio-jet could provide up to 30% of all commercial aviation jet fuel by 2030," Mr Remy said.
The companies believe the potential environmental advantages of using second-generation bio-jet are extensive, including reduced emissions and particulates; reduced carbon footprint; improved engine cleanliness; reduced contrail formation; and overall lifecycle benefits. In addition to examining the benefits of jet fuels derived from renewable biomass sources that do not compete with existing food production or valuable land and water resources, the companies plan to document the challenges associated with obtaining approval for this fuel by standards organizations.