Airlines Win Approval to Use Plant-Based Biofuels on Commercial Flights

Airlines won final approval from a U.S.-based technical-standards group to power their planes with a blend made from traditional kerosene and biofuels derived from inedible plants and organic waste.

The decision published today on the website of ASTM International allows airlines to fly passenger jets using derivatives of up to 50 percent biofuel made from feedstocks such as algae and woodchips. It will help carriers that account for 2 percent of global carbon dioxide emissions reduce pollution blamed for damaging the Earth’s atmosphere.

“We’re extremely pleased to see the approval of the first group of biofuels for aviation,” Billy Glover, Boeing Co. (BA)’s vice president of environment and aviation policy, said in an e- mail. “The ASTM Emerging Fuels Taskforce, co-led by Boeing and the Federal Aviation Administration, worked for years to enable aviation to diversify its fuel sources and reduce our environmental footprint.”

Airlines already have conducted test flights using the fuel. Air France-KLM Group on June 29 operated the world’s first commercial flight using a blend including cooking oil. It’s planning 200 similar test flights from Amsterdam to Paris starting September. Boeing did a trans-Atlantic flight with fuel from the camelina plant.

Engine Impact

ASTM gave preliminary approval for the new blends in early June and published detailed rules for refiners to follow today. General Electric Co. (GE), the world’s biggest jet engine maker, said it doesn’t expect the new fuels to have any impact on the function of its motors.

The 27-nation European Union is prodding airlines toward cleaner fuels by forcing them to cap emissions or buy permits for the excess, beginning next year.

Companies that may benefit from opening the $139 billion-a- year aviation fuel market include Neste Oil Oyj (NES1V) of Finland, U.S.-based Solazyme Inc. and Honeywell International Inc. (HON)’s UOP unit, which is developing a fuel-making technology.

“This is an important milestone for the aviation industry and for biofuel producers that bet on drop-in fuels,” said Roberto Rodriguez Labastida, an analyst at Bloomberg New Energy Finance.

‘Clear Winners’

“Neste Oil, Diamond Green Diesel Holdings LLC and Honeywell’s UOP are clear winners with this announcement as they are the main proponents of hydrotreated vegetable oils and fats,” Rodriguez Labastida said. “Neste Oil is the only oil company with commercial plants producing biofuels that could be used in airplanes.”

Honeywell’s UOP has licensed its technology to Gap Energia SGPS SA in Portugal, Rentech Inc. in the U.S., ENI SpA in Italy and Petroleo Brasileiro SA in Brazil, he said.

“Today’s announcement is a major step in its efforts to commercialize advanced low-carbon biofuels,” said Jonathan Wolfson, chief executive officer of Solazyme.

Airbus estimates that fuel from plant-derived sources may account for 30 percent of airlines’ consumption by 2030.

The plane maker, with Deutsche Lufthansa AG (LHA), plans in the coming weeks to undertake a six-month trial using planes with one engine powered 50 percent by biofuel from jatropha, camelina and animal waste. Lufthansa is aiming to blend clean fuel with kerosene at up to 10 percent of the total by 2020.

Only one other type of clean jet fuel is currently cleared for use. This was approved in 2009 and is made from feedstocks including biomass, natural gas and coal.

‘First Step’

“Approval for plant-oil based biomass jet fuels is only a first step,” Glover said. “Boeing, our customers, and many other stakeholders will build on this first achievement to enable these next groups of aviation fuels to be approved.”

Airbus and Boeing, which together manufacture about 80 percent of the world’s passenger planes, are planning to set up biofuel production chains across the world.

Airbus is working on a supply hub in India where it’s talking with government and airline officials. Its aim is to form joint ventures and partnerships with growers, transporters and refiners.

Boeing is negotiating with companies across the supply chain in South America. Fuel from inedible plants or waste doesn’t put price pressure on crops as can fuel from corn, sugar cane or soy.

To contact the reporter on this story: Louise Downing in London at ldowning4@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Reed Landberg at landberg@bloomberg.net

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