A steady stream of press releases is continually adding names to the list of airlines that have decided to undertake biofuel test flights. From an environmental standpoint, this is heartening. But there's a problem.
According to Sapphire Energy, which produces transport fuel derived from algae, the global civil airline industry is "not an attractive customer" and will be the last to sign up to buy the product.
In other words, until an airline makes a firm, long-term commitment to paying what will almost certainly, initially, be a premium to buy scaled-up quantities of biofuels - if and when sufficient quantities exist - these press releases will remain little more than PR stunts. The question is: who is going to step up to the plate and pay even more for their fuel than they do now, when the price of kerosene already has airlines baulking?
Perhaps ironically, at the front of the queue, and looking the most likely to really start using fuels aimed at saving the world, is the US military. The US Air Force has committed to sourcing half its domestic fuel supply from alternative blends by 2016. And Sapphire Energy believes certification of its product will be carried out by the military.
With biofuels looking likely to receive certification this summer, all eyes will be on those brave (or stupid) enough to put their money where their mouths are by signing up to be true consumers.
Source: Flight International