Airbus teams up with Tarom to build biofuel plant in Romania

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Airbus has teamed up with Tarom to establish a facility in Romania to produce aviation biofuel from the camelina crop, as part of the European airframer's plan to develop at least one such facility on every continent.

The project is undergoing a year-long feasibility study to evaluate "four to five" potential sites across Romania to find the most suitable location for the plant, says Airbus head of new energies Paul Nash. "The closer we can get to Bucharest the better, for distribution purposes," he adds.

Airbus and Tarom are hoping to be able to produce enough biofuel in the short-term to carry out a series of flight tests. The medium-term goal for the planned Romanian plant is to supply "at least 25% of Tarom's annual fuel bill", but the long-term aim is to scale up production to commercial levels and make the fuel available to other airlines, says Nash.

"It will be five to 10 years before we're up to commercial scale - we're talking vast amounts of biofuels in the thousands and thousands of tonnes," he adds.

Honeywell unit UOP is providing its biofuel refining technology for the project, but Nash says that discussions are taking place with two Romanian refineries to try and secure a joint venture. "We're looking this year at whether we can do all the processing in Romania. If not, we'll have to do it at a UOP site," he says.

Airbus's goal is to establish "at least one [biofuel] project" on every continent, using feedstocks native to the local regions in which the projects are based, says Nash. Projects have already been secured with airlines in Brazil, Mexico, Germany, Australia and the Middle East.

The airframer is "working heavily" on securing agreements for projects in Asia and Africa, and aims to make another announcement "before 2012", says Nash.

Airbus says its role is to act as a "catalyst", supporting fuel approval processes and assessing the effects of the biofuels on aircraft systems and engines.