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NEWS Last modified on January 15, 2018

BLOG: Opening the door to renewable fuels

As we look ahead, one of the key topics across many sectors will be the EU’s fast-approaching Europe 2020 strategy, which emphasises sustainable growth, writes John Pitts.

With just two more years to reach the target of a 20% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, as set by EU leaders in 2007, there will be a huge emphasis on the use of renewable energy and sustainable sources across industries.

According to the Air Transport Action Group (ATAG), the global aviation industry produces just 2% of all human-induced CO2 emissions.

While the sector’s contribution is relatively low, its pro-action will hold a great deal of influence over other industries.

Sustainable fuels are already being explored and considered by airlines, airports and operators across the world as a potentially viable source, but a wide adoption is sure to shake up the processes already in place. 

Expanding the supply chain

The traditional aviation fuel industry is very global in its outlook, but one of the challenges I believe it faces is how to get fuel from numerous, diverse locations, into core supply chains.

The supply chains for raw materials, and other alternative sources used for renewable fuels, are not going to be the same as those used traditionally, and so the industry is going to need to adapt.

I believe there are lots of opportunities for new developments, new manufacturing pathways and for companies currently outside of the aviation fuel supply chain to join.
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Raw waste material such as forest, agricultural and municipal solid wastes will be coming from numerous locations, but they will be at their own stages of the product life cycle.

A migration of skills from the traditional participants and stakeholders to  ‘new’ ones involving new and different parties will need to take place relatively quickly if we are to harness these new supply chains, and it won’t be an easy task.

Getting fuel safely into aircraft is a complicated business, and requires a considerable amount of experience and expertise – and sustainable fuels shouldn’t be any different.

Renewables in action

Although, traditionally the development of sustainable fuel will have been beyond an airport’s remit, the introduction of schemes such as the Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation (CORSIA), put sustainability at the top of the agenda for airports and operators.

We are currently working with Norwegian airport operator Avinor, which operates around 50 airports across Norway, on a fuels initiative at Oslo, and one outcome may be easier access to suppliers of sustainable fuels.

Avinor is also exploring the opportunities around using forestry waste and wood pulp residues, and using that to put together a proposition that airlines could buy into.

It’s a difficult task to introduce a new fuel type to the industry, and there will be issues over supply and demand for some time to come; but it’s not just airports and operators that are receptive to renewables.
Bergen biofuel
It was announced in September that British Airways had formed a partnership with renewable fuels company, Velocys, to develop a sustainable jet fuel made from post-recycled waste.

Qantas Airways, too, has signed a partnership deal that will see bio fuel made from a Canadian oilseed and, to demonstrate its benefits, the airline will operate the world’s first bio-fuel flight between the US and Australia.

By opening up supply chains to a more diverse range of feed stocks for jet fuel, we could see the development of renewable fuels grow rapidly over the next 10 years.

There will be a need for continued pushing and pulling to make the supply chains well established and robust enough for use, and a wide adoption of initiatives like CORSIA to further enhance commitment. However, I do believe we will witness the greening of the fuel mix start to take place a lot sooner than some may think.  

• John Pitts is managing director of eJet International.

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