Mon 23 June 2008 – Air New Zealand, Continental Airlines and Virgin Atlantic Airways, along with biofuel technology developer UOP, have joined the recently formed Algal Biomass Organization (ABO), which is co-chaired by aerospace manufacturer Boeing. ABO expects these new members will form the first wave of aviation-related companies interested in developing new generation biofuels.
“There is significant interest across multiple sectors in the potential of algae as an energy source and nowhere is that more evident than in aviation,” said Billy Glover, ABO co-chair and Managing Director of Environmental Strategy for Boeing Commercial Airplanes.
“Air transportation is a vital contributor to global economic prosperity, but is being threatened by record rises in fuel costs. Together, we recognize that algae have the potential to help offset those fuel costs, while also contributing to improved environmental performance for the aviation industry.”
The three airlines, together with Boeing and Honeywell’s UOP, a leading specialist in refining technology, have said they will work together through the ABO “to generate more sustainable fuel options by pushing for long-term innovation and investment in algae as an energy form.”
The non-profit association, formed earlier this month (see story) following a successful inaugural conference last November, is opening membership, with modest fees, to any parties interested in research, development and the potential commercialization of algae.The second annual Algae Biomass Summit will take place in Seattle, 23-24 October 2008.
Air New Zealand’s Deputy Chief Executive, Norm Thompson, said the new association would play a “pivotal role” in the development of sustainable aviation fuels. “No one airline, research organization or scientific group holds the key to making air travel more environmentally sustainable,” he commented. “It must be a collective effort across research organizations, aircraft and engine manufacturers, fuel companies, refiners and airlines. Therefore, we are delighted to be at the forefront of this latest effort to take aviation into a greener future.”
Air New Zealand, in cooperation with Boeing and Rolls-Royce, is to conduct a biofuel test flight later this year on a Boeing 747-400. Three weeks ago, the airline announced that the biofuel to be used would be come from the oil produced from the seeds of the jatropha plant, grown extensively in India and parts of Africa, which does not compete with food crops (see story). Air New Zealand has said it expects to be using one million barrels of jet biofuel annually by 2013, satisfying 10% of its total needs.
According to Boeing figures, jatropha yields are around 2,600 litres of oil per hectare per year, whereas algae have the potential for producing nearly 90,000 litres of oil per hectare per year. Algae grow rapidly (doubling in biomass in as little as a few hours), require limited nutrients and do not require fresh water to thrive. However, unlike other second-generation options, algae will require technological breakthroughs to become viable, says the ABO, which aims to provide a single, collective voice regarding ongoing efforts.
Virgin Atlantic President, Sir Richard Branson said: “Algae really could be a solution to help airlines produce lower carbon emissions. Crucially, it is a source of fuel which doesn’t lead to deforestation or the taking away of land or water from the cultivation of essential food crops.
“Virgin Atlantic is delighted to be supporting the work of the Algal Biomass Organization in building knowledge of this innovative new technology, and accelerating the commercialization of algae to help produce a more sustainable aviation industry.”
The airline was the first to demonstrate the feasibility of biofuels when a blend produced from the babassu nut and coconut was used on a GE-powered Boeing 747-400 flight from London to Amsterdam in February (see story).
Continental Airlines announced in March that it too would carry out a demonstration biofuel flight, probably early next year, in partnership with Boeing and GE Aviation (see story).
Jennifer Holmgren, Director of UOP Renewable Energy and Chemicals, said: “The use of algae and other second generation feedstocks is absolutely necessary to achieve long-term, sustainable biofuels. The efforts of companies like Boeing, Air New Zealand Continental and Virgin will help bring the focus and effort that is needed to ultimately make these resources a commercial reality.”
UOP recently announced a partnership with Boeing’s rival Airbus, engine manufacturer IAE and US low-cost carrier JetBlue Airways to develop biofuels (see story). Airbus believes biofuels could provide up to 30% of all jet fuel requirements by 2030.
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