Aeroplanes are one of the most popular forms of transport, but the aviation sector is responsible for producing significant amounts of carbon dioxide emissions; in fact, these emissions equal around 781 million tons.
The aviation sector is under enormous pressure to slash its emissions, with ambitious targets set for carbon-neutral growth from 2020 and 50 per cent less emissions by 2050. To meet these targets, alternative, cleaner fuels are being thrust into the spotlight.
Alternative fuels, such as biofuel blends, are the future for the aviation industry if emissions are to be reduced. Although alternative fuels are currently being reearched and developed and even being used by some airlines, there is still a lot of work to be done before they will replace traditional jet performance fuels completely.
Biofuels are greener and cleaner than their traditional jet fuel counterparts. Made from renewable plant materials, such as corn, rapeseed and sugarcane, these first-generation fuels already have a part to play in heating, power generation, cooking, and some modes of transport.
The current issue with using first-generation biofuels for the aviation sector is that using food crops to make the fuels can result in dramatic price fluctuations. Biofuel developers are therefore increasingly concentrating on creating second-generation biofuel, using feedstock that can be mass-produced without relying on valuable or scarce resources. This new breed of biofuel can be produced in greater amounts and at a more stable price.
Although second-generation biofuels are an exciting proposition, there are some factors that need to be taken into account if these alternative fuels are to replace traditional jet fuels. These biofuels need to meet the correct requirements in terms of their density, combustion heat, freezing point and flash point. The supply of biofuels will also need to be given full support through stringent government policies.
Current use today
Several companies developing performance fuels and alternative fuels for the aviation sector have emerged in recent years; for example, a Finnish company has created a renewable jet biofuel that is currently awaiting approval for use as an alternative aviation fuel.
Germany’s Hamburg airport has also started to use renewable diesel on its ground fleet, while United Airlines in the US is already using biofuels on some of its internal flights. These are a mix of 30 per cent biofuels and 70 per cent traditional jet fuels. The airline is hoping to eventually use this cleaner fuel on all its international flights.
It is only a matter of time before more airlines and airports follow suit. Studies have shown that the main markets for alternative aviation fuel are likely to be North America and Europe, although Asia Pacific, China, India and Latin America are also tipped as growth markets.
Although there are still challenges to face with regard to switching to alternative fuels in the aviation sector, the need to reduce carbon emissions means that this fuel is the way forward for the future of this industry.