Eighteen months after Oslo Airport became the first international gateway to offer jet biofuel as a refuelling option to airlines through its main fuel system, Norwegian airports operator Avinor is pointing to the initiative’s success and plans to extend it to other airports across the country. Avinor operates 46 Norwegian airports and has set itself a target for 30% of all aviation fuel in Norway to be sustainable biofuel by 2030.

Its Oslo programme is a step in this direction, but the operator recognises that it is a small step which must be augmented by other, similar initiatives. Also needed, it says, are further research and development into biofuels from sources indigenous to Norway, and government moves to incentivise early movers – and to prioritise sectors such as aviation which have no current alternative to liquid fuels.

Oslo Airport announced in January 2016 that, following an agreement with Air BP and SkyNRG, it could offer biofuel through its normal hydrant supply mechanism to all airlines operating to and from the Norwegian capital.

At the time, Air BP chief executive David Gilmour said the approach reduced logistics costs significantly, and demonstrated that airports could “readily access biofuel with relative ease, utilising existing physical infrastructure”. Air BP agreed to deliver an initial 1.25 million litres of biofuel, with the intention of gradually increasing the volume in the years to follow.

Avinor senior executive adviser Olav Mosvold Larsen acknowledges that this represents “a drop in the ocean” of the total volume of fuel used by Oslo’s airlines each year. But he says the initiative has proven that airports can successfully incorporate biofuel into their regular jet fuel supply systems, as opposed to delivering it to aircraft in separate trucks.

“The volume of biofuel available is very, very small – 1.25 million litres is 0.2% of all the fuel sold at Oslo Airport every year,” says Larsen. “But the interesting thing with this project is we’re dropping it into the main fuel farm at the airport and this has never been done before.” He admits that this required “lots of paperwork”, but once the administrative issues had been resolved, the airport experienced no technical issues.

Oslo biofuel

Lufthansa Group was the first to join Oslo's biofuel scheme, followed by SAS and KLM


Overall, the experiment at Oslo has been “very promising” and Avinor is planning to expand it to other airports in Norway, Larsen says.

The first batch of fuel delivered to Oslo by Air BP was derived from camelina grown in Spain under the European Union’s ITAKA (Initiative Towards Sustainable Kerosene for Aviation) project. It was refined by Neste Oil in Finland. The second batch was derived from used cooking oil and refined by AltAir in California, before being transported to Scandinavia by container ship.

“The transport part is not a big deal. Fuel is transported around the world every day so there is no drama or scandal involved in that,” says Larsen. However, he points out that Avinor is “quite agnostic” when it comes to the type of biofuel it uses, and would like to see fuel derived from biomass sources indigenous to Norway becoming more readily available in the future.

Forestry residues offer “huge potential” for developing a biofuel industry in Norway, says Larsen, while seaweed harvested from the country’s long coastline shows promise as a longer-term option (see below).

Lufthansa Group was the first to participate in the Oslo biofuel scheme, closely followed by SAS and KLM, which Avinor said on announcing the initiative were “quick to indicate their willingness to pay extra to ensure that jet biofuel could be offered” at the airport. Larsen says that airlines currently pay “more than double the price for biofuels” compared with kerosene. Almost half of departing flights from Oslo are now partially powered by biofuel, he adds. The first flights using jet biofuel in Norway took place in November 2014, when SAS and the budget carrier Norwegian each carried out one scheduled service.

In the run-up to the Paris climate change agreement, which was adopted by nearly 200 nations in December 2015, Avinor set itself the target to ensure that 30% of all aviation fuel in Norway would be sustainable by 2030. “We thought 30% was realistic for the Norwegian aviation industry, depending on how traffic evolves,” says Larsen. “It’s a number we like because we feel the aviation industry should definitely take responsibility for its carbon emissions, and this is a strong signal that we are willing to do our part.”

Avinor’s board of directors agreed in 2013 to allocate NKr100 million ($11.9 million) over a 10-year period to projects aimed at developing Norway’s jet biofuel industry, to help achieve its target. This decision followed six years of research, conducted by external groups on behalf of the airport operator. “We started looking at biofuels a decade ago, in 2007, and in those days everyone said aviation biofuels would not be possible,” recalls Larsen. “We commissioned a couple of reports, which was a major effort as this was not our core business.”

Larsen believes Avinor has made good progress on laying the groundwork for building a large-scale biofuel industry in its home country, but says the aviation industry “cannot do it on our own” and government help is needed.

This view was reflected by IATA at its recent annual general meeting in Cancun, when the industry body approved a resolution calling for governments to implement policies to accelerate the deployment of sustainable aviation fuels. IATA wants to see governments develop a regulatory framework that allows for easier access to finance for the development of biofuel production facilities; support for demonstration plants and supply chain research; and incentives to put sustainable aviation fuels “on an equal footing” with automotive biofuels.

“Drop-in alternative fuels are technically ready to go and can deliver up to 80% reduction in carbon emissions," says IATA director general Alexandre de Juniac. "Governments have a role in providing incentives to make SAF [sustainable aviation fuels] commercially viable, just as they do with supporting the solar power for homes or electrically powered cars.”

Larsen reckons Norway has the political will to develop the country’s biofuel sector – but it needs a little nudge. “It’s not like we get a big bag of money [from the government] but jet biofuel is definitely on their agenda," he says. "If we come up with a concrete project to produce biofuel in Norway, I’m sure we would get support from the government. It has to be cost-efficient, but I definitely feel the political support for biofuel in aviation is there."

But Norway is a relatively small, sparsely populated country. To have a significant impact on reducing carbon dioxide emissions from the global aviation industry, political support needs to spread to other countries. What is needed is to create the vast network of locally produced alternative fuels from a variety of biomass sources.

However, President Donald Trump’s recent decision to withdraw the USA from the Paris Agreement calls this political will into question. The country produces almost half of worldwide carbon dioxide emissions from aircraft.


Seaweed holds the potential to produce vast volumes of sustainable aviation biofuel in the longer term. With its long, craggy coastline, Norway is emerging as a possible key player in harvesting and producing this type of fuel.

In the nearer term, the Scandinavian country’s forestry sector could also play an important role in helping Norwegian airports operator Avinor achieve its goal for 30% of all aviation fuel in Norway to be sustainable biofuel by 2030.

A study carried out by Oslo-based non-profit organisation Bellona and commissioned by Avinor, which was published in March, concluded that some common species of seaweed “could become a promising source of biofuels, if sustainably produced and used”.

Much of the controversy surrounding biofuels derived from land-based plants relates to competition with food crops and concerns about the possible mismanagement of land. But, as the Bellona report points out, “the use of third-generation marine biofuels, such as seaweed, helps in lowering most of these risks”.

Oslo Airport

At Oslo airport, more than half of departing flights are partially powered by biofuel


Its high water and carbohydrate content, together with its vast abundance, makes seaweed an ideal biofuel source. While much more research needs to be carried out on how to exploit cultivated seaweed and turn it into fuel, it is clear from Bellona’s report that the potential is significant, and Norway is a strong contender for future production.

“With a coastline reaching 2.5 times around the equator, the potential production area in Norway is large,” the report says. “The Norwegian baseline (grunnlinjen) stretches 21,000km [13,000 miles] and encompasses an area of 90,000km², or 9 million hectares. This is an area seven times larger than the total marine cultivation area in China, and an area as large as all the agricultural land in Norway, Sweden, Finland and Denmark combined.”

Avinor senior executive adviser Olav Mosvold Larsen points to seaweed – and, in the nearer term, forest residues – as the key biofuel sources in Norway, given its geographical features and sparse population.

“In Norway we are only five million people scattered across this long, strange country, so access to solid waste is not there,” he says, referring to companies such as California-based Fulcrum BioEnergy, which turns household waste into jet biofuel and other low-carbon transportation fuels.

“[Waste] is already used for heating and it is not really possible for us to incinerate our household waste, so we’re looking to our forest industry, which has a pretty big potential.”

Larsen points out that just 25% of tree biomass can be converted to make planks for construction or other timber industry uses. “Everything else is residual, and we believe there is a huge potential for that to be used in energy and biofuel production,” he notes.

However, to move towards large-scale production of aviation biofuels derived from forest residues, the price of residue “needs to come down” and further technology developments must be made.

Nevertheless, Avinor says a study it carried out in association with NHO Luftfart (the Federation of Norwegian Aviation Industries) concluded that large-scale production of jet biofuel based on biomass from Norwegian forests could be achieved in the 2020-2025 timescale.

For seaweed, “we see that as being a little bit further out compared with forest residues”, says Larsen, adding: “Seaweed, for sure, is promising. There is a huge volume of biomass that could be available in the future, but we don’t know anything about price yet.”

Once these issues and uncertainties have been ironed out, however, the ocean could provide the long-term answer to the question of whether aviation can ever become truly sustainable.

As the Bellona report points out: “There is a golden opportunity to design a high-potential industry effectively from scratch. Also, as compared to forest/woody biomass, seaweed’s higher growth rate means there is a higher turnover rate and [it] could theoretically be cultivated inexhaustibly.”

Source: FlightGlobal.com