Global Airline Industry Chief: “Sustainability is our licence to grow”

Global Airline Industry Chief: “Sustainability is our licence to grow”

Something we can expect to see a lot of this year: Airlines talking up their green credentials. From chicken fat to algae, carriers are busy looking for new ways to fuel their planes and reduce their emissions. Several airlines have already claimed “world-first” initiatives using jet bio fuel and Qantas has announced its intention to operate Australia’s first biofuel flight. British Airways will be getting jet fuel from its waste-to-energy  plant in East London by 2014.

In 2010, British Airways announced that it will start producing jet fuel from landfill waste to reach its target of 50 percent reduced emissions by 2050. The airline is partnering with biofuels company Solena to construct a waste-to-energy fuel plant in East London that will turn 500,000 tonnes of organic waste into 16 million gallons of jet fuel per year.

Jane E. Fraser in Sydney Morning Herald (22 January 2012):

Eco talk … airlines are under immense pressure to become greener.

Could fast food chains be the answer to airlines’ carbon emissions dilemmas?

IF THERE’S something we can expect to see a lot of this year, it is airlines talking up their green credentials. From chicken fat to algae, carriers are busy looking for new ways to fuel their planes and reduce their emissions.

Several airlines have already claimed “world-first” initiatives such as the first commercial biofuel flight, the first scheduled biofuel flight and the longest distance biofuel flight, and Qantas has announced its intention to operate Australia’s first biofuel flight early this year.

Airlines are very keen to be seen to be making these efforts, hence the amount of marketing hype accompanying each development, but there are also commercial imperatives driving them.

The global aviation industry produces only 2 per cent of the world’s man-made carbon emissions, according to the International Air Transport Association (IATA), but airlines are nevertheless under immense pressure to become greener.

The IATA has declared work on biofuels to be a major priority for the industry in the year ahead, with the association’s chief executive, Tony Tyler, saying it is “one of aviation’s great challenges” to reduce its carbon emissions.

“Sustainability is our licence to grow,” Tyler says.

The problem with biofuels and other green initiatives is that they can be expensive and their supply can be inconsistent.

Until the world goes into large-scale biofuel production and distribution, biofuel flights might remain in the same category as electric cars: a nice idea but not all that practical.

The executive chairman of the CAPA Centre for Aviation, Peter Harbison, says the greening of aviation is a complicated issue involving a combination of alternative fuels, new engine technology and practical measures such as efficient flying patterns.

“You add all those things together and you’re talking about growth [in aviation] without an increase in emissions,” Harbison says.

“The airlines are doing a tremendous amount; the things that get overlooked are things like load factors.

“Airlines used to regularly fly at 70 per cent full … now, when it’s more like 90 per cent, you’ve suddenly got a massive increase in efficiency.”

Harbison says while airlines are undoubtedly very good at marketing their green initiatives, their efforts are genuine.

“The airlines really don’t have any choice … oils are not going to last forever and then there’s the environmental side,” he says.

“It’s a hard call at the moment, when things are tough and they have short-term issues and competition, to focus on a long-term issue such as fuel but they really need to be doing it.”

Harbison says while airlines are doing their bit and manufacturers are making steady improvements to aircraft engine efficiency, governments need to come to the party to facilitate practical measures such as more efficient air traffic control.

“Governments are very good at putting taxes on private industry but doing little themselves,” he says.

On the positive side, aviation and other methods of transport could actually provide a use for the grease that comes out of the deep fryers at your favourite fast food chain.

A leading provider of biofuels, Dynamic Fuels in the US, says both animal fats and “yellow grease”, predominantly vegetable-based oil, can be turned into a clean fuel that replaces the need for petroleum.

Among the list of sources from which the company says it can create renewable, synthetic fuel are poultry fat, beef fat, soybean oil, oil from the jatropha plant and oil cultivated from algae.

Dynamic Fuels says it can even use fat recovered from wash water that has been used in the process of beef rendering.

Virgin Atlantic recently announced that it is working on a world-first “low carbon aviation fuel” derived from waste gases in industrial steel production.

The gases can be captured, fermented and chemically converted to jet fuel rather than being burnt into the atmosphere as carbon dioxide.

The carrier says the fuel, which has half the carbon footprint of the standard fossil fuel alternative, has the potential to be rolled out for worldwide commercial use.

Virgin Atlantic aims to be using the new fuel on selected routes in two to three years’ time and says the cost will be comparable to conventional jet fuel.

Falling into line

Among the many ideas put forward for greener aviation is aircraft flying in formation to improve aerodynamics. A report by the Institution of Mechanical Engineers in Britain says long-haul aircraft flying in a V-shaped formation could yield fuel savings of up to 12 per cent and cut nitrogen oxide emissions (a major issue, along with carbon emissions) by a quarter.

The report suggests future planes could be autonomous, controlled by computers rather than pilots. Remote sensing equipment and infrared cameras would allow the aircraft to “autonomously position” itself to “make the maximum use of the vortexes from the aircraft ahead of them”.

Source: www.smh.com.au

 

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