What was once a vision of the future is starting to work its way into the now – Biofuels. The environmentally friendly fuels, which are produced from natural plant oils, have become an airline industry trend, with several carriers now testing them on limited routes.
The German flagship carrier, Lufthansa, which is the first airline to introduce the use of biofuels on regular scheduled flights, has been running trials on the Frankfurt – Hamburg route served by an Airbus A321, using a 50 percent blend of bio-synthetic kerosene.
To enable the airline to compare the two engines on the aircraft as part of the testing programme, Lufthansa, which employs 117,000 people worldwide, uses biofuel in only one of the aircraft’s two engines, while the other is running on pure jet fuel.
At a recent press conference in Frankfurt, Vice President for Aviation Biofuel, Joachim Buse, said that while a total switch to biofuel has “a long way to go,” the testing has thus far gone well, eliminating concerns that biofuel might interact with the engines differently than traditional jet fuels.
“So far, the good news after three months of trials is that there has been technically no unexpected behavior,” said Buse.
Buse added that not only is the non-fossil fuel base fuel more environmentally friendly, it will also reduce fuel consumption levels, since it combusts at higher levels than current jet fuels. “The expectation is that if we were to use a full blend, the overall reduction in fuel burn would be two percent.”
The International Air Transport Association’s most recent numbers show that total emissions for the airline industry stood at 649 million tons of CO2 worldwide in 2010, up 3.5 percent from the previous year. The IATA estimates that replacing only three percent of the kerosene in jet fuel would reduce aviation emissions by over 10 million tons.
Following Lufthansa’s lead, other carriers such as America’s United Airlines, Australia’s Quantas and Dutch-based KLM have introduced similar programs, with Virgin Airlines hoping to have a testing facility up and running by
Lufthansa Chairman and CEO Christoph Franz said replacing traditional fuels would take time, and with the nature of newly developed biofuels, it must be done so prudently.
“We first want to acquire experience in daily practice in the use of biofuels. We are doing pioneering work in that no other airline to date has operated an aircraft engine with biofuel over a longer term,” said Franz.