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FARNBOROUGH 2008: Airbus plans second-generation biofuel tests

Second-generation biofuel could provide up to 30% of all commercial aviation jet fuel by 2030. That is the belief of Airbus, which has formed a partnership with several key industry players to develop a viable second generation biofuel.

Airbus has teamed with Honeywell Aerospace, UOP (a Honeywell company), International Aero Engines and JetBlue Airways to develop the technology to convert vegetation and algae-based oils into aviation fuels and to evaluate the challenges for obtaining approval for such fuels by standards organisations.

“With the cost of a barrel of oil at present levels, alternative fuels are now becoming viable,” says Ross Walker, Airbus engineering programme manager, alternative fuels. “Next year, we will perform a flight test with a second-generation biofuel.”

He believes that by 2030, 30% of aviation fuels will be biofuels. “To achieve this we must have international and cross-industry collaboration,” he says. “We must all work together to advance this.” The next steps in the development of second generation bio-jet fuels were to identify sustainable biomass sources that do not compete with land and water use for food crops, nor with natural carbon sinks such as rainforest.

The second generation bio-jet fuel would be produced using technology developed by UOP. The firm has developed a process to convert biological material into renewable jet fuel that performs identically to traditional fuels while “meeting the stringent performance specifications for flight”.

Sebastien Remy, head of alternative fuels research programmes for Airbus, says: “Over the past 40 years, aviation has reduced fuel burn – and therefore carbon dioxide emissions – by 70%, but more needs to be done.

“Millions of barrels of kerosene are used each day for aircraft fuel, and worldwide demand is growing. In order to replace a significant portion of that jet fuel with bio-jet, we need to find something that has much greater yield than the current biomass sources available.

He added that potential environmental advantages of second generation bio-jet fuel include reduced emissions and particulates; improved engine cleanliness; reduced contrail formation; and overall lifecycle benefits.

The partnership will also conduct research into whether biofuels could potentially be developed that will expand payload-range aircraft performance, reduce fuel burn, and improve engine reliability and durability.

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