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Published on September 29th, 2008 | by Meg Hamill

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Boeing, Virgin, Join Group Committed to Biofuel Development for Commercial Airlines

This is a guest post by Meg Hamill who works at the Environmental non-profit LandPaths, in Sonoma County, California.

Leaders in the aviation industry join together, committing to bring sustainable practices into their fuel supply chain.

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For those of us who have taken a flight recently,  it’s obvious that the airlines are in trouble.  Who ever would have thought that we’d be paying extra for a pillow?  Or an aisle seat?  With the rise in oil prices, many airlines are seeking out creative ways to stay afloat.  Some of these companies are going straight to the heart of the issue, and beginning to investigate a more sustainable fuel supply.

While Boeing has been researching biofuels in the aviation industry for some time, last week’s formation of a new collaborative group ratchets up their commitment to the issue, and brings some key players to the table.

Boeing joined Virgin Atlantic Airways, along with eight other commercial airlines to establish the Sustainable Aviation Fuel Users Group.  The group is committed to accelerating the development of sustainable biofuels for use in the commercial airline industry.  Honeywell’s UOP, a refining technology developer, is also part of the group.

The mission of the Sustainable Aviation Fuel Users Group is to bring renewable fuel sources (that will reduce carbon emissions) into commercial aviation, while simultaneously lessening the industry’s exposure to the volatility of oil prices, and dependence on fossil fuels.  The group is receiving support and advice from the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC).

“This task force comes at just the right time to help airlines cut costs and decrease their greenhouse gas emissions,”  said Liz Barratt-Brown an NRDC attorney.

The nine airlines supporting the sustainable fuels initiative include Air France, Air New Zealand, ANA (All Nippon Airways), Cargolux, Gulf Air, Japan Airlines, KLM, SAS and Virgin Atlantic Airways. It is estimated that collectively, these airlines account for approximately 15 percent of commercial jet fuel use.

“This is a tremendous opportunity for leading airlines, supported by well-respected energy and environmental organizations, to help commercial aviation take control of its future fuel supply in terms of origin, sustainability and environmental impacts,” said Billy Glover, managing director, Environmental Strategy for Boeing Commercial Airplanes. “The number one priority going forward is to complete thorough assessments of sustainable plant sources, harvesting and economic impacts, and processing technologies that can help achieve that goal.”

Each member of the group has agreed to a sustainability pledge, stating that any sustainable biofuel must perform as well as, or better than, kerosene-based fuel, but with a smaller carbon life cycle.  Also included in this pledge was a promise to consider only renewable fuel sources that reduce biodiversity impacts, such as fuels that require the minimum amount of land, water and energy to produce, and that don’t compete with food or fresh water resources.

>> See Also: Continental, Boeing Schedule Biofuel Test Flight For 2009

Photo Credit:  from Flickr under a Creative Commons Attribution License



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About the Author

Meg Hamill has been working in the environmental non-profit field in Northern California for the past six years. She currently works as a naturalist for LandPaths (in partnership with the Open Space District) in Santa Rosa California. She teaches poetry in the public school through California Poets in the Schools (CPITS) and has traveled extensively throughout South and Central America, picking up Spanish along the way. In 1999 she completed a thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail. Meg holds an MFA in Creative Writing and has published two books of political/environmental poetry. Read more, buy books and e-mail Meg at www.meghamill.com.



  • ChuckL

    This is interesting, but did you know that the U. S. Air Force already has many aircraft certified for use of a synfuel that is half JP8 and half synthetic paraffinic kerosene. The B-52 and C-17 are certified. The synthetic paraffinic kerosene is currently made from natural gas, but can also be made from coal.

  • ChuckL

    This is interesting, but did you know that the U. S. Air Force already has many aircraft certified for use of a synfuel that is half JP8 and half synthetic paraffinic kerosene. The B-52 and C-17 are certified. The synthetic paraffinic kerosene is currently made from natural gas, but can also be made from coal.

  • ryncef

    yes, but those coal and gas sourced fuels from the fischer tropsch process are 1) not financially viable and 2) use incredible amounts of fresh water and 3) emit significantly more life cycle Co2 than petroleum.

    talk to ANYONE in the energy sector, who doesn’t have a stake in fischer tropsch SPKs and they will tell you the same thing: FT fuels are non starters, commercially. Quote from mckinsey energy expert:”the Ft people have been saying for decades they’ll get their costs down, well, they haven’t”

    Now if USAF wants to rake taxpayers over the coals (pun intended) and charge them for subsidizing dirty and expensive fossil based alternatives, that is their choice.

    As for commercial aviation, they must have viable, sustainable alternatives

  • ryncef

    yes, but those coal and gas sourced fuels from the fischer tropsch process are 1) not financially viable and 2) use incredible amounts of fresh water and 3) emit significantly more life cycle Co2 than petroleum.

    talk to ANYONE in the energy sector, who doesn’t have a stake in fischer tropsch SPKs and they will tell you the same thing: FT fuels are non starters, commercially. Quote from mckinsey energy expert:”the Ft people have been saying for decades they’ll get their costs down, well, they haven’t”

    Now if USAF wants to rake taxpayers over the coals (pun intended) and charge them for subsidizing dirty and expensive fossil based alternatives, that is their choice.

    As for commercial aviation, they must have viable, sustainable alternatives

  • ryncef

    ….and btw, did you know that the biofuels from UOP’s technology (others have it too) are SPKs that are chemically identical to the fuels certified by USAF currently

    Only if the FT-coal people are able to be successful in blocking renewable-based SPKs from certification (their goal), will renewable SPKs not be in the supply chain.

    Increasingly, this only coal, only gas SPK approach is on shaky ground as the blatant self interest by the FT / coal sector is exposed….

  • ryncef

    ….and btw, did you know that the biofuels from UOP’s technology (others have it too) are SPKs that are chemically identical to the fuels certified by USAF currently

    Only if the FT-coal people are able to be successful in blocking renewable-based SPKs from certification (their goal), will renewable SPKs not be in the supply chain.

    Increasingly, this only coal, only gas SPK approach is on shaky ground as the blatant self interest by the FT / coal sector is exposed….

  • http://www.personalloanszone.com Tom Selleck

    I’m glad to see the airline industry is looking into bio-diesel and other fuel forms. However, with the amount of fuel commercial jets utilize it is hard to image a more cost effective way of delivering passengers.

  • http://www.personalloanszone.com Tom Selleck

    I’m glad to see the airline industry is looking into bio-diesel and other fuel forms. However, with the amount of fuel commercial jets utilize it is hard to image a more cost effective way of delivering passengers.

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