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Is government support needed for bio jetfuels?

The aviation sector needs to start making the switch to biofuels today to make a tangible impact on lowering carbon emissions in 15 years’ time, according to Dr Ausilio Bauen, director of sustainable energy consultancy E4tech.

In a new report commissioned by the UK consortium Sustainable Aviation (SA), E4tech estimates that sustainable aviation fuels will account for up to 3.3% of global aviation fuel use in 2030, potentially reducing carbon emissions by 35 million tonnes a year.

While many low carbon fuels from biomass or waste are in development, Bauen concludes that operators need to start using them today if they are to play “any significant role between 2030 and 2050”.

At the launch of E4tech’s research and the SA’s latest paper on sustainable jetfuels at Farnborough yesterday (July 16), Jonathon Counsell the chair of SA agreed that the sector was facing a “critical time” in developing alternative jetfuels and that government support was needed to mitigate the risks being faced by those developing the new fuels.

“From recycling waste materials to jetfuel, to the early stage development of algal oils for transportation fuels, the potential for the UK to become a centre of excellence for sustainable fuels is considerable,” he said. “This potential can only be achieved if the UK government takes steps to actively support the development of new technology, ensures a level playing field and provides a clear framework to stimulate production and investment in sustainable aviation fuels.”

In its report the SA argues that the next 15 years are a “critical period for government incentives” to help the sector. But are incentives really what the aerospace sector needs to develop biofuels?

The SA’s call for support in the UK came as Japan’s government launched an initiative with 30 companies from the aviation sector to investigate the potential of developing a sustainable aviation biofuel industry in Japan. Japanese ministries responsible for the economy and the environment are to be involved as “observers” while firms, such as All Nippon Airways, Boeing and Shell, are to be the members driving the development of next generation aviation fuels.

Meanwhile, in Europe the ITAKA project (Initiative Towards sustAinable Kerosene for Aviation) assisted KLM in launching the first long-haul flights using a 20% biofuel blend in May. The group is an industry collaboration between partners including SENSA, Airbus, SkyNRG and is only part funded by the European Commission.

In the Middle East, the Sustainable Bioenergy Research Consortium is funded privately by Boeing, Etihad Airways and Honeywell UOP while being hosted by the Masdar Institute of Science and Technology in Abu Dhabi.

While funding is important, industry collaboration helps firms to share the risks of developing new technologies. Perhaps the UK government in responding to the SA should look to Japan for inspiration.

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