Boeing, with leading air carriers and Honeywell’s UOP, a refining technology developer, has established a group to accelerate the development and commercialization of sustainable new aviation fuels.
The new Sustainable Aviation Fuel Users Group’s charter is to enable the commercial use of renewable fuel sources that can reduce greenhouse gas emissions, while lessening commercial aviation's exposure to oil price volatility and dependence on fossil fuels.
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. Collectively, they account for approximately 15% of commercial jet fuel use.
With support and advice from the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), the new Sustainable Aviation Fuel Users Group makes commercial aviation the first global transportation sector to voluntarily drive sustainability practices into its fuel supply chain.
All group members subscribe to a sustainability pledge stipulating that any sustainable biofuel must perform as well as, or better than, kerosene-based fuel, but with a smaller carbon lifecycle. The user’s group pledged to consider only renewable fuel sources that minimize biodiversity impacts: fuels that require minimal land, water and energy to produce, and that don’t compete with food or fresh water resources. In addition, cultivation and harvest of plant stocks must provide socioeconomic value to the local communities.
The group has announced two initial sustainability research projects. Assistant Professor Rob Bailis of Yale University’s School of Forestry & Environmental Studies, through funding provided by Boeing, will conduct the first peer-reviewed, comprehensive sustainability assessment of jatropha curcas to include lifecycle CO2 emissions and the socio-economic impacts to farmers in developing nations. Similarly, NRDC will conduct a comprehensive assessment of algae to ensure it meets the group’s stringent sustainability criteria.
This taskforce comes at just the right time to help airlines cut costs and decrease their greenhouse gas emissions. If done right, sustainable biofuels could lower the airlines’ carbon footprint at a time when all industries need to be moving away from fuels with high levels of greenhouse gas emissions, especially high carbon tar sands and liquid coal.—Liz Barratt-Brown, NRDC senior attorney