Virgin Airways uses biofuels from Babassu and coconut oil. British Airways is also working towards using biofuels. The issue that several companies have is the cost. Renewable fuels are more expensive than the traditional fuel.
Perhaps the biggest news in this arena comes from the German airline Lufthansa, which recently announced its intention to use biofuels on its commercial flights by 2012. The German government is giving 2.5 million euros to the project. British Airways and Airbus have also hinted at their interest in biofuels, announcing their belief that algae could be used for this purpose. A climate change news source reported last year that several airlines may be implementing biofuels in the next 5 years due to a slow economy and a spike in oil prices. (http://solveclimatenews.com/news/20100318/airlines-could-be-flying-biofuel-within-5-years)
“Biofuel” refers to fuel created with any type of biomass. Most common biofuels (like those used for cars and trucks) cannot be used in airplanes (which usually use kerosene-based fuel). However, certain kinds of plant oils, like coconut oil and palm oil, can be converted into aviation fuel using a process known as “hydro-treatment.” Since this kind of fuel is different in consistency than that of crude oil, there is still some confusion as to how much biofuel it would take to get to a particular destination. There is also some experimentation with sugar-based fuels and algae-based fuels for aviation.
In January of 2009, Continental Airlines successfully used an algae-based biofuel on a test flight, mixing it with 50% traditional kerosene fuel. Around the same time as the Continental flight, Japan Airlines conducted the first flight (also a test run) using the biofuel camelina. Once again, this was a mix of 50% kerosene fuel and 50% biofuel. Other airlines have also used the 50/50 blend biofuel on test flights, including KLM out of Amsterdam.
There are a few commercial airlines that use biofuels, mainly as a certain percentage of the amount of fuel used to power the plane. Many commercial airlines are in the process of developing alternative fuel passenger planes using biofuels, but have yet to integrate them into their fleet. Continental Airlines, for example, completed test flights two years ago for carrier planes that used a biofuel that combined algae and jatropha (a type of weed). The use of biofuels for air crafts in the US is supported by our government through R & D funds, it is also being explored globally. Major concerns associated with the transition to biofuels are the costs of developing new refineries, as well as choosing the best components from which to produce biofuels.
Airlines are investing more and more in biofuels, and it really does seem like biofuels are the future of aviation. However, it’s going to be several more years, maybe decades, before the technology is advanced enough to use on a really large scale.
In the meantime, airlines are making strong pushes for more efficient jet engines. These still burn fossil fuels, but give off a smaller carbon footprint because the plane is able to go further while using up less fuel. Large scale implementation of these efficient engines is expected by 2013.
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