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Biomass-Based Jet Fuel to Be Produced in London and Australia by US-based Company


Did you know that German fighter airplanes used synthetic fuel made from biomass? This is what Australian line Qantas and US-based fuel producer Solena are negotiating about these days, in an attempt to replace the fossil-based fuels that currently power their airplanes.

Solena also has deals with other airlines like easyJet, Rynair or Aer Lingus. The relationship with Qantas will build a biojet fuel plant in London, will create 1,200 jobs and will cost £200m to build. The plant’s fuel will be the 500,000 tons of waste per year. Still, this would only account for 2% of their needs at Heathrow.

The materials that the biofuel will be made from are household organic residues, tree cuttings, agricultural and industrial waste. The technology is based on the Fischer-Tropsch process, which makes synthetic liquid fuel using oil substitutes.

The technology can make biofuel from coal, but the carbon emissions are overwhelming, so different sources have to be used. The kerosene-based jet fuel will be blended with biojet diesel. The aim is to totally replace kerosene with time, but for now the biofuel proportion has to be small enough not to ruin the aircraft’s engine, and at the same time offer significant changes to carbon emissions.

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  1. Biofuelled or biofooled?

    The UK plant could produce about 2% of BA’s Heathrow fuel needs, according to the airline. BA’s reported CO2 emissions from their global flight operations were 17,714,897 million tonnes in 2008 – being generous, and assuming 100% carbon offset from this particular biofuel, BA’s emissions would therefore be 2%/354,300 tonnes less per annum when and if this plant is up and running.

    Qantas reports its CO2 emissions as about 12,500,000 tonnes in 2009, so assuming a similar waste-to-jet biofuel production quantity in Australia, Qantas could expect a 2.84% reduction in its emissions.

    Both airlines would like us to believe they can slash carbon emissions. Given the recovery in the airline industry underway right now coupled with future growth projections it’s highly likely that overall CO2 emissions at both British Airways and Qantas will continue to increase. PR-led statements appearing to knock a couple of percentage points off rising CO2 emissions are more to do with manufacturing consent for unrestrained fossil-fuel powered growth than actually combating climate change, I’m afraid.

    Jeff Gazzard
    Board Member
    Aviation Environment Federation, London


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