Europe Updates Biofuel Rules

Biofuel accounts for less than one per cent of global jet fuel consumption, partly because supply is limited and partly because it is two to three times more expensive than conventional Jet A.

The European Commission is trying to address the first of these problems through an update of its Renewable Energy Directive, which will obligate transport fuel suppliers to raise their biofuel content from 1.5% in 2021 to 6.8% by 2030.

Preferential rules apply to the aviation sector, but IATA has suggested the commission go further and prioritise biofuel production for aviation.

The airline trade body reasons that aircraft have no practical alternative to liquid fuel, unlike cars, which can run on batteries. Moreover, once supply is increased, prices will fall, which will in turn boost demand.

“Sustainable fuels are an essential element of our carbon-cutting strategy, with the prospect of an 80% decrease in carbon compared to traditional jet fuel. Policies to incentivize the production of such fuels have been successful in the United States and elsewhere,” said Michael Gill, IATA’s director, aviation environment.

The next hurdle is sustainability, and ensuring that biofuel production does not compete with food crops, does not cause deforestation and does not interfere with clean water resources.

The commission has declared that food-based biofuels only contribute to 3.8% of total output by 2030.

Many airlines are keen to ensure sustainable feedstock, and the biofuel with perhaps the best credentials is used cooking oil (UCO), which companies such as SkyNRG, Neste Oil and Honeywell refine into jet fuel.

While tailpipe emissions from UCO biofuel are similar to standard Jet A, it offers huge lifecycle benefits, as the carbon dioxide emitted by burning it has already been sucked out of the atmosphere by the plants grown to produce the cooking oil in the first place.

Despite its obvious merits, however, supplying UCO in quantity is time-consuming and expensive without dedicated infrastructure to harvest UCO from the thousands of restaurants, takeaways and food manufacturing plants that expel it as waste.

Incentivising its use by airlines should perhaps be the real priority.

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