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Airline industry last in line to sign up for algae fuel: Sapphire CEO

One or two pioneering airlines may begin using jet fuel derived from algae and use it to create a competitive advantage in the nearer term, but the commercial airline industry as a whole will be last in line to sign up as a customer for this type of fuel, predicts the chief executive of US renewable jet fuel producer Sapphire Energy.

In an interview with ATI and Flightglobal, Sapphire chief Jason Pyle said that the global civil aviation industry as it stands today is "not an attractive customer" for his company's 'Green Crude' - a drop-in transportation fuel derived from algae.

"[Airlines] don't engage in long-term contracting and they're quite prickly about pricing," says Pyle. "They want green jet fuel but they don't want to pay for it. They don't consume a lot of product as individuals, and airports as fuel purchasers are very difficult to deal with."

Rather than a mass industry move towards algae-derived jet fuel - if and when it becomes certified and available in commercial quantities - Pyle believes it is "more likely that one or two airlines in particularly advantaged positions will become premium customers of green jet fuel and use it as a competitive advantage".

However, he does not see the airline or airlines in question as being US-based: "My guess is that it won't be a US carrier. The carriers that are becoming visionary about the use of new fuels are non-US carriers."

San Diego-based Sapphire produces its Green Crude from algae, using only sunlight and carbon dioxide as a feedstock. The company says its product differs from other biofuels because it is not dependent on food crops or farmland, it does not use potable water and it can be refined into jet fuel which is compatible with existing petroleum infrastructure.

Sapphire, which has been awarded over $100 million by the US Government as part of a programme to help the nation reduce its dependence on foreign oil, has carried out tests using a 50/50 blend of its fuel in co-operation with Continental Airlines and Japan Air Lines.

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