Airbus, BA team with Cranfield on algae biofuel project

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Several companies including Airbus and British Airways have teamed up with the UK's Cranfield University to push forward the use of algae as an alternative fuel for the aviation industry.

The Sustainable Use of Renewable Fuels (SURF) consortium consists of Airbus, BA, Cranfield University, Rolls-Royce, Finnair, London's Gatwick Airport and IATA. Its aim is to study five areas relating to the possible future use of microalgae as an alternative to kerosene.

The five areas include environmental impact, processing, capacity and distribution, commercial and legislation, and regulation.

SURF is based around a pilot project at Cranfield called Sea Green, under which algae is being grown and processed for potential use as a biofuel. The plan is for Sea Green to eventually become an ocean-based facility which will produce commercial quantities of biomass to be converted into biofuel.

SURF envisions that Sea Green will be able to produce the first commercial quantities of biofuel from algae within three years.

"Algae grows naturally in sea water and with over 70% of the surface of the earth being water, Cranfield's Sea Green project is a logical and potentially high yield solution," says Feargal Brennan, head of Cranfield University's Department of Offshore, Process and Energy Engineering.

"Few replacement options to kerosene for fuelling commercial aircraft have been identified, but jet fuel produced from algae produced in this way could be a major breakthrough."

Airbus head of new energies Paul Nash adds: "We see algae as one of the most promising and sustainable solutions for commercial quantities of biofuels."