Are alternative fuels viable for private and commercial jets?

More than 100,000 commercial flights have already been performed using alternative fuels.

Oil resources are not unlimited. Climate change threatens our lifestyles, food supply, biodiversity, economy and human health. Therefore, aircraft manufacturers, and lines, governments and even oil companies are engaged in the quest for sustainable alternative fuels. This is all the more vital for private jets, since their fuel consumption per passenger is higher than that of airliners.

Indeed, while it’s possible and even likely that electric cars will decrease worldwide oil consumption in the next years, the development of electric airplanes looks more complicated. Batteries are heavy and can’t deliver enough energy for medium and long distance flights.

Therefore, Sustainable Aviation Fuels (SAF) will be the only energy solution to mitigate the· emissions growth of the industry in the medium term.   IATA, the International Aviation Transport Association, supports research, development and deployment of alternative fuels that meet environmental, societal and economic sustainability criteria. IATA is a member of the Roundtable on Sustainable Biomaterials (RSB), which has developed the most comprehensive sustainability standards for biofuels.

Sustainable Aviation Fuels allow airlines to reduce their carbon footprint, ease their dependence on fossil fuels and enjoy benefits from increased energy supply diversification

Lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions from alternative fuels can be up to 80% lower than traditional jet fuel.

Main requirements for sustainable aviation fuels:

  1. Can be safely mixed with conventional jet fuel, can use the same supply infrastructure and do not require adaptation of aircraft or engines
  2. Meet the same technical specifications as conventional jet fuel, in particular resistance to cold and high energy content (automotive bioethanol and biodiesel are different and are not suitable)
  3. Meet sustainability criteria such as lifecycle carbon reductions, limited fresh water requirements, no competition with food production and no deforestation.

All over the world, multi-stakeholder groups (airlines, airports, aircraft manufacturers, governments, biomass and biofuel producers and suppliers) are working together on initiatives for the deployment of sustainable aviation fuels These include CAAFI (US), Ubrabio (Brazil), aireg (Germany), Bioqueroseno (Spain), Bioport Holland (The Netherlands), Plan de Vuelo (Mexico), AISAF (Australia), NISA (Nordic countries), BioFuelNet Canada, and further projects are taking place in China, the UAE, Qatar, Israel and Japan.

Biofuels milestones

  • 2008 – The first test flight with biojet fuel was performed by Virgin Atlantic o Between 2011 and 2015 – 22 airlines have performed over 2,500 commercial passenger flights with blends of up to 50% biojet fuel from used cooking oil, jatropha, camelina, algae and sugarcane.
  • Jan. 2016 – Regular sustainable fuel supply through the common hydrant system started at Oslo Airport. Alternative fuel producer Neste and supplier SkyNRG as well as Air BP are involved
  • Mar. 2016 – United commenced daily flights using sustainable alternative fuel from Los Angeles Airport (LAX), supplied by AltAir. United is the first airline in the world to have introduced alternative jet fuel into normal business operations.
  • Nov. 2017 – The milestone of 100,000 commercial flights using SAF was reached   Several airlines have concluded long-term offtake agreements with biofuel suppliers, most of which· are reported as commercially competitive. A number of airports have agreed to supply SAF through their hydrant system.

Challenges and opportunities – both political and commercial

Currently, a number of alternative jet fuel production pathways are more expensive than fossil Jet fuel. Risks for investment in production infrastructure can be mitigated by carefully designed policy toencourage the development of SAF production capacity.