Are biofuels best suited to air travel?

We pay a lot of attention to biofuels' potential in the auto industry, but the aviation industry could be their ideal market. 

Bilal Hussein/AP
A Russian plane carrying emergency aid arrives at the Rafik Hariri International Airport in Beirut, Lebanon, Wednesday, Dec. 18, 2013. The aviation industry is gearing up to a very real push toward biofuels.

Given how familiar most of us are with cars, it's easy to see them as the be-all and end-all when it comes to cleaning up transportation. Reduce fossil fuels, increase electric propulsion, increase use of biofuels, job done.

With over a billion cars on roads around the world improving them is clearly a priority, but other industries are seeking alternatives to conventional fossil fuels too, one of which is the aviation industry.

And as aviation gears up for a very real push towards biofuels, we ask--is aviation actually the ideal market for such fuels, rather than the car industry?

The latest column from industry analysts Navigant Research suggests it could well be, as a whole supply chain for biofuels builds around it and several airlines begin to incorporate aviation biofuels into their routes.

It isn't just small-time airlines either.

KLM Royal Dutch Airlines, which runs hundreds of European and international routes,opened a biofuel route between the Netherlands and New York earlier this year. While the biofuel is a 50 percent blend with regular fossil fuel kerosene, it's still a long route using 50 percent less fossil fuel than usual.

The fuel itself is provided by SkyNRG, one of the major players in the field. It uses certified sustainable feedstock for biofuel conversion, and ensures protected areas and wildlife habitats are unaffected by the feedstock production.

SkyNRG is also a company behind the 'Bioport' concept, according to Navigant Research. These are regional production hubs condensing the upstream, midstream and downstream components of liquid fuel production.

Not only does it reduce the transport impact of fuel production but also allows them to operate independent of usual fuel supply dynamics and market changes. Schipol Airport in the Netherlands--where KLM is based--and Brisbane Airport in Australia are both 'Bioport' sites, using appropriate available feedstocks and the most relevant conversion technology solutions to work at each site.

London Heathrow too has facilities to convert municipal solid waste into biofuel, and while it came about as the result of a long, expensive process for supplier Solena Fuels, agreements like that can be quickly replicated at airports worldwide.

It's an advantage the aviation industry has over the automotive industry--the ability to set up biofuel production entirely locally to where the aircraft are fueled, significantly reducing cost and improving its environmental credentials. If you can use local produce--such as Brazil's push towards sugarcane-based biofuels, set to power 200 flights during the 2014 soccer World Cup and 20 percent of flights for Rio's 2016 Olympics--it's even better.

We suspect it'd be good for the green-minded individual, too. At the moment, air travel is a surefire way to boost your personal carbon footprint to a huge size.

Take just one flight (particularly a short-haul journey with fewer passengers) and you can negatively offset hundreds of miles of driving in a greener car. But if more of those flights are completed using aviation biofuel--even those 50 percent blends used by KLM--the impact of each journey, and your personal impact, is significantly reduced.

The fuel is still expensive at this stage, but corporate co-partnerships with large and like-minded sponsors (SkyNRG has Nike, Heineken, Philips, and others on its side) are helping co-fund the development costs.

And regular oil prices are going up, at any rate. When that crossover happens, it may happen in a much bigger way for aviation than it will for ground transportation.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.
Real news can be honest, hopeful, credible, constructive.
What is the Monitor difference? Tackling the tough headlines – with humanity. Listening to sources – with respect. Seeing the story that others are missing by reporting what so often gets overlooked: the values that connect us. That’s Monitor reporting – news that changes how you see the world.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to

QR Code to Are biofuels best suited to air travel?
Read this article in
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today