Advocates of aviation biofuels must recognise that market forces may pull available resources into producing alternative road transport fuels for the foreseeable future.
The warning comes from John Cooper, BP's director of transport energy policy in Europe, speaking at the Royal Aeronautical Society's Aviation and the Environment conference in London today (18 October).
He said that while vegetable oil-based fuels are, for technical reasons, the most likely source of aviation biofuel for the near future, there will not be enough vegetable oil available to manufacture sufficient quantities of jet fuel.
Farmers, investors and fuel makers are all drawn to the highest-return, least-risk products, and for the foreseeable future most resources will be attracted to the production of biodiesel.
And, added Cooper, the entirely valid aviation demand for a molecule identical to kerosene places very high technical hurdles to synthesising jet fuel, making them very expensive. Thus, he said, because biofuels are not zero carbon, the price of alternative fuels is likely to remain high enough to all but eliminate the economic benefit of blending bio and fossil fuels.
Moreover, many vegetable oil-derived fuels are little better than fossil fuels in terms of their CO2 emissions, so BP believes the most economically viable alternatives to jet fuel will be those derived from cellulose-based waste products such as wood or straw.
But while BP is confident that processes to make these in large volume and to a sufficiently high standard for jet fuel use will be devised, they are many years and many billions of dollars of development away, said Cooper.