Camelina crops
 © Boeing
Biofuel feedstock camelina could help aviation go green
Amid mounting criticism and the threat of punitive legislation, the aviation industry has set some daunting environmental targets. The International Air Transport Association is aiming at carbon-neutral growth by 2020 and a 50% reduction in net emissions by 2050, compared with 2005 levels. Its director general Giovanni Bisignani admits that members were initially "shocked" by these commitments, made in 2007. But now, shock is giving way to concrete action.

Attention has zeroed in on biofuels, reckoned by IATA to offer a potential 80% reduction in lifecycle emissions but as yet unavailable in anything like the required volumes. In November, Dutch airline KLM revealed its involvement in the SkyEnergy project, aimed at developing sustainable biofuels, and a spate of similar initiatives have followed the much-criticised denouement of December's United Nations climate change talks. "I think the world leaders failed," declared Qatar Airways chief Akbar Al Baker last month as Qatari state entities and Airbus committed to biofuels research. In short order, Boeing joined forces with Abu Dhabi's Etihad Airways on a seawater farming project aimed at growing the feedstock salicornia, Airbus parent EADS resolved to investigate microalgae with the Singaporean government, and British Airways set plans for a biofuels production facility in London.

As ever, the industry is pleading for government support as it looks to bring scale production of Jet-A alternatives closer to reality. Yet there appears to be a dawning realisation that unless aviation is prepared to put its money where its mouth is, nothing will happen, with nations around the world busily firefighting deficits. Doom-mongering about biofuel shortages amounts only to an excuse for inaction, and there's no time to be lost.

Once, aviation's environmental endeavours were attended by talk of responsibility and leadership. Now they seem guided by simple pragmatism. After all, it's possible to make the heretical argument that biofuels should be directed to power generation and shipping, reserving kerosene for the aviation industry to which it is well suited, but as Phil Hopton of biofuel researchers Verno Systems puts it: "The world is not going to do that, because air travel is seen as a luxury and the various campaigners have no trouble targeting it as being environmentally irresponsible."

Once focused on lobbying efforts and the propaganda war, the industry is facing reality and stumping up. It can only benefit both aviation and environment.

Source: Flight International