KLM promises new era of biofuel flights

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KLM's chief executive elect Camiel Eurlings on 8 March kicked off an era of regular-service biofuel operations with a promise to develop next-generation fuels that will be available in sufficient volume to run as a kerosene blend on all KLM flights within the coming years.

The fuel being used on flight KL641 from Amsterdam to JFK every Thursday for the next six months, before a different flight takes up the biofuel rotation, is derived from used cooking oil.

Its performance is "top notch" and it has none of the negatives sometimes associated with biofuel, such as cutting into food production, but it cannot be supplied in large volume, says Eurlings.

However, he promises, new technologies - also with very high net carbon displacement and no water pollution, food production or other negative externalities - will be unveiled within a year.

Critically, he says, the New York flights are not just one or two test runs, but regular service. "We have to make people aware it can be done," says Eurlings. "Biofuel is here to stay."

However, he underscores the problem the industry faces in scaling up sustainable biofuel production to realise meaningful quantities: "KLM [to date] has secured more of the 'good' biofuel than the rest of aviation put together."

And, as one of KLM's biofuel programme sponsors observes, the New York flights are only a start towards sustainable aviation, as the fuel being used is actually manufactured in the USA and shipped to the Netherlands.

However, says Eloy Lindeijer, chief investment manager at Dutch pension fund manager PGGM, the hope is that by playing a "modest role" in KLM's sustainability project some momentum will be created towards setting up a local supply industry.

PGGM's clients, adds Lindeijer, are largely in the healthcare sector and thus are naturally, and increasingly, inclined to support - and demand - investment in environmentally responsible companies.

And, he adds, in the long term better investment returns will be had by making "environmentally sustainable growth integration" a foundation of PGGM's business model.