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Forecasts 2011: Environment - Turning on to biofuels

Securing enough investment to scale up the production of biofuels for use in commercial aviation hinges on the authorisation of such fuels by certificating body ASTM International. This approval was expected in mid-December, but the anticipated date for authorisation has slipped to the first quarter of 2011.

Richard Altman, executive director of the Commercial Aviation Alternative Fuels Initiative (CAAFI), describes 2011 as a "critical year" for initial investment in production programmes aimed at scaling up feedstock availability to commercially viable levels.Altman had been hoping an ASTM subcommittee would authorise hydrotreated renewable jet (HRJ) fuel during a series of meetings in December, which would have kick-started the huge amounts of investment needed to scale up production. However, he says the work is "99% done" and is confident the full ASTM committee will still be able to vote on whether to approve the fuels before the end of the first quarter, as originally planned.

A recent five-year agreement between the US Department of Agriculture and the Federal Aviation Administration to work together on developing feedstocks that can be processed into jet fuel will go some way toward increasing feedstock availability.

"There is concern that the amount of agricultural crops available will be limited," says Altman. "The seeds have been sown for a very close relationship between agricultural interests and aviation. This will mature even further as initiatives are announced."

There are also cost concerns, with Airbus chief Tom Enders recently estimating that biofuel is 25 times as expensive as normal jet fuel. Ausilio Bauen, director of sustainable energy consultancy E4tech, says: "It is difficult to see the cost of biofuels at less than $100 a barrel."

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