PARIS AIR SHOW: Airbus tests vegetable oils

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Airbus expects within about three months to make a decision regarding tests of hydrogenated vegetable oils in biofuel demonstrations.

At the show, company engineering programme manager of alternative fuels Ross Walker said examining how fuels made from such oils would advance the certification process of biofuels, and the availability of material used in the testing are factors in the decision.

If Airbus decides to move forward with the testing, Walker says the company would use fuel sourced from 100% of a feedstock rather than a mix or blend. One material being considered for the tests is algae.

Walker explains the process of converting hydrogenated vegetable oils to fuel is simpler and requires less energy than the Fischer-Tropsch method. Oxygen is removed from the oils, which produces more hydrogen for a process of hydrocracking that breaks carbon and down for reassembly to produce the given fuel. Through Fischer-Tropsch, a gas must first be converted to liquid before the hydrocracking occurs.

Once a decision is made in favour of hydrogenated vegetable oil testing, Walker says Airbus is likely to use an A320 for the demonstration.

Walker says overall for biofuels there is still a lack of lifecycle analysis, but with fuel prices per barrel reaching a high of $140 per barrel last year, "Airbus believes diversifying the supply chain would create some stability".