The aviation industry is attempting to reduce its environmental impact in lots of ways, but perhaps the largest steps towards sustainability are efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
In the last five years the use of biofuels for aviation has gone from concept to reality. There have been dozens of test flights on large passenger aircraft. Last year, fuel with 50% bio-derived synthetic content was certified for aviation use. Such fuels will not require changes to aircraft or fuel delivery infrastructure.
Biomass sources include crops such the jatropha nut, the camelina grain and algae, and also municipal and forestry waste material and spent cooking oil. The aviation industry is also being careful to only develop biomass sources that will not adversely affect food, water and land supply.
However there remains many barriers to the widespread introduction of biofuels in aviation, not least the need to greatly increase the rate of biomass production and refining capabilities.
It’s therefore heartening to see airlines and aircraft manufacturers taking the initiative to develop supply chains for biofuels themselves. Most recently three major players in aircraft manufacturing, Boeing, Airbus and Embraer, companies that are bitter rivals in commercial terms, announced a partnership (http://www.physorg.com/news/2012-03-airplane-rivals-joint-biofuel.html) to develop “drop-in, affordable aviation biofuels,” that all airplane models could use, regardless of the make.
There are other interesting examples, such as British Airways’ plans to build a waste-to-biofuel plant in East London (http://www.businessgreen.com/bg/news/1800593/ba-plans-pioneering-east-london-waste-biofuel-plant) and Qantas’ plans to build its own biofuel production plant in Australia (http://www.theaustralian.com.au/business/aviation/qantas-may-build-a-jet-biofuel-plant-in-sydney/story-e6frg95x-1225980966060).
If the technology that enables biofuels to be used in any aircraft can be developed quickly, and sustainable biofuel sources developed responsibly, a turnaround in rising greenhouse gas emissions for the aviation sector can be effected sooner rather than later for the good of passengers, the environment and the industry.