The prospect of aviation moving swiftly to a greener fuel alternative to help reduce its carbon footprint looks increasingly doubtful. The latest blow is British Airways' failure to find enough of a future fuel type to conduct initial testing.

BA last year teamed with Rolls-Royce to launch a scientific test programme using an RB211 engine from a BA Boeing 747-400 to investigate the viability of alternative fuels. Up to four fuels were to be selected through a joint tender process to undergo laboratory and rig testing by the end of March.

Speaking at the Aviation and Environment Summit in Geneva, BA chief executive Willie Walsh told delegates that their search had to date been fruitless. "Our experience showed that we were slightly ahead of the production available and we were struggling to find the 60,000 litres [15,830USgal]," he said. But he added that later this year R-R is optimistic of securing a substantial volume to test in a true trial environment on one of its own rigs.

The key criteria for selection are suitability, sustainability and industrial capability with clear evidence of the potential for mass production and global distribution.

British Airways 747
 © Simon Gregory/

Billy Glover, Boeing's director of environmental performance, suggested that it was the quantity specified that was problematic. "What they were asking for was a quantity of fuel at the 'innovation' level. It's a no-man's land between laboratory test quantities and those that have benefited from a production scale-up after experimentation."

Jason Pyle, chief executive of Sapphire Energy, warned delegates that aviation was "not in the debate" compared to other industries and risks not being able to secure enough biofuel in the requisite quantities in the face of powerful, competing interests.

Sanjay Pingle, president of Terasol Energy, told the summit: "If the industry does not start to engage in finding new sources of the biofuel supply chain, it will still be buying alternatives on the same terms as it currently buys petroleum-based jet fuel."

John Begin, deputy director of the International Civil Aviation Organisation's Air Transport Bureau, said: "If biofuel is to continue to be seen as an option it has to come to terms with aspects that need to be addressed in a policy-making dimension."

He said a broadly held vision needed to be established and commitment demonstrated, with the amount of fuel required and when it is needed by defined. He added that the industrial scale required also needs outlining, public versus private rules of engagement laid down, and risk-sharing profile and mitigation strategies set up.

Source: Flight International