KLM To Begin Using Biofuel On Commercial Flights

Dutch airline KLM is the latest carrier to announce that they plan to use biofuel to fly to France starting in September of this year. On more than 200 flights between Paris and Amsterdam, KLM will use biofuel made from recycled cooking oil in an effort to reduce carbon emissions. This move is especially economical because the airline will not need to make any changes to its existing aircrafts or engines to accommodate the cooking oil fuel, KLM said last week. The use of biofuel, a response to stricter pollution thresholds set by the European Union, is a way for KLM to “minimum negative impact on biodiversity and food supply”, said managing director Camiel Eulings.

These flights will contain a mixture of jet fuel and biofuel in Boeing 737 engines, which is produced by US-based Dynamic Fuels. KLM states that it is committed to sustainability, and has taken other steps to make its operations more environmentally friendly. New, more efficient aircrafts were added to the fleet in 2009, and the company is developing a new aircraft, aimed for launch in 2025, that will be 50% more efficient. KLM has reduced its CO2 emissions both on the air and on the ground by reducing kerosene use by 9.5% in 5 years. The airline also strives to match flight demand with its aircrafts, flying larger and fuller aircrafts in peak season and reserving its small airplanes for the off-season.

KLM, which merged with Air France in 2003, previously tested biofuel on an Air France-KLM demonstration flight in 2009, which carried 40 people for 90 minutes, including the Dutch minister of economic affairs. Reportedly the first flight to use biofuel, one of its four engines contained equal parts biofuel and regular jet fuel.

Air travel is estimated to contribute about 2 to 3 percent of global carbon emissions, and 3 percent of European emissions. The European Union has placed new, tighter caps on pollution, and has told airlines that, by 2012, they must reduce their carbon emissions on flights within the European continent by 3 percent in order to adapt to the new pollution limits. Airlines are encouraged to experiment with cleaner, more eco-friendly fuel use as well as strategize to obtain maximum efficiency on existing flights. Full flights on large aircrafts with a high seat density are more fuel efficient, according to a recent study by Brighter Planet. To begin maximizing efficiency, airlines can fill flights to capacity rather than transport a half-full load of passengers.

As a whole, the air travel industry burns 75 billion gallons of jet fuel every year. The rising cost of oil and government subsidies for eco-friendly fuel have driven many airlines to test biofuel, which is cheaper to purchase and environmentally safer to produce than oil. Though the debate continues as to whether biofuels truly burn cleaner than fossil fuels, the low cost and low environmental impact of biofuel have caught the attention of airlines worldwide.

KLM joins several other airlines who have already committed to using greener fuels, including Southwest Airlines. Last week, the American carrier announced plans to join with 10 other airlines and partner with Solena Fuels to use 16 million gallons of 100% biofuel by the year 2015, which will be partly sourced from 550,000 metric tons of trash. United-Continental Airlines, American Airlines, JetBlue, US Airways, and Lufthansa are among the 10 airlines included in the partnership. European airlines, including KLM, British Airways and Lufthansa, agreed to a similar deal this week with biofuel producers to make 2 million tons of cleaner fuel by 2020. Other international carriers to use or test biofuel include the United States Navy, Air Japan, Air New Zealand, and Virgin Airways. 

Photo credit: flickr.com/photos/husseinabdallah/4219907835/in/photostream/

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