Airliners need focus on biofuels for growth

By Korea Herald
  • Published : Jun 17, 2012 - 19:50
  • Updated : Jun 17, 2012 - 19:50
Renewable fuels show long-term promise in curbing carbon emissions, says Air France exec

The world’s commercial airline industry needs to research and promote renewable sources of energy like biofuels, or it faces a risk of limited growth in the future due to the expanding carbon footprint of air travel, said Air France’s Vice President of Environment Pierre Albano.

“Unless we reduce air pollution, (airlines) will not be allowed to grow anymore,” he said in an interview with The Korea Herald in Seoul last week.
Pierre Albano, Air France’s vice president of environment. (Lee Sang-sub/The Korea Herald)

According to Albano, carbon emissions refer to a type of air pollution and are the byproducts of burning fossil fuels. They are believed to contribute to global warming and other environmental problems, he said.

Biofuels are usually made from plants, such as corn, algae or even forestry waste, and these renewable fuels can slash CO2 emissions caused by air travel by as much as half, according to Albano.

They also show great promise because they are compatible with engines currently found on most commercial aircraft, and can be mixed with fossil fuels in any ratio, he said.

To demonstrate that a biofuel-fueled flight was possible with present-day technology, Air France staged a successful commercial test flight from Toulouse-Blagnac to Paris-Orly in October 2011, Albano said.

The flight used fuel made out of used cooking oil, and generated about 54 grams of CO2 per passenger, roughly half the amount that would be produced on an ordinary flight, according to company officials.

So the present-day challenge is for the aviation industry to share the best practices and vision with regards to these biofuels, especially in terms of policies and regulations, he said.

For example, most of the world’s biofuel producers, especially those in Europe, are currently producing and developing these fuels for use by road transportation vehicles, but since biofuels developed for road transport undergo a different refining process, they cannot be used to power aircraft, he said.

So the aviation industry needs to push for the development, research and eventual production of biofuels for airlines’ use, he said, which requires partnerships between public and private enterprises.

On a private level, Air France has been partnering with France’s Atomic Energy and Alternative Energies Commission, or CEA, to develop biofuels such as bio-kerosene and bio-diesel.

“We (also) need to convince policymakers to develop policies and a framework for biofuel use (by airlines),” he said.

This is already underway in Europe, thanks to an initiative called “Biofuel Flightpath.” First launched in 2011, it involves a partnership between the European Commission, top European airlines and Airbus, to develop two million tons of biofuels for commercial aircraft use by 2020.

While it will be years before biofuels are produced in sufficient quantities to power most aircraft, the Air France environment executive said that the airline will continue to invest in the research and development of these renewable fuels, and will be a committed buyer of these fuels in the future.

But he stressed that the airline industry as a whole needs to support these fuels in order for them to become widely used and available in the future.

“It doesn’t make sense for Air France to be the frontrunner. (Rather), everyone in the sector needs to move at the same pace, in the same direction, (towards) the same targets,” he said.

By Renee Park (