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Responding to Climate Change 2011

Home | Spotlight on Energy | EADS Flying away from oil: biofuels in aviation
 

Flying away from oil: biofuels in aviation

EADS

At this year’s Berlin Airshow, EADS made the world’s first flights of an aircraft powered by pure biofuel made from algae
At this year’s Berlin Airshow, EADS made the world’s first flights
of an aircraft powered by pure biofuel made from algae

Aviation generates 32 million jobs worldwide, moves 2.2 billion passengers annually and its global economic impact is estimated at US$3.56 billion – 7.5% of the world’s gross domestic product. Although air transport’s CO2 footprint is 2-3% of man-made CO2 emissions, every sector must reduce greenhouse gas emissions. EADS, the world’s second largest aerospace company and maker of the market-leading Airbus, has embarked on a way to find viable solutions which also bring economic benefits.

The company aims to strike a balance between the needs for mobility and environmental sustainability. Two main research areas are mitigation and alternative energy; on the one hand reducing emissions by lowering consumption and, on the other, searching for effective, alternative fuels.

Over the last 40 years, aviation has achieved a 70% improvement in aircraft fuel-efficiency. The Airbus A380, consuming less than three litres per passenger per 100 kilometres, is already is the world’s most eco-efficient airliner. Optimising air traffic control, taxiing, approach and departure patterns will additionally reduce fuel consumption.

But the aerospace industry needs to go further and cut net CO2 emissions by 50% – the goal of the Advisory Council for Aeronautics Research in Europe (ACARE) and the International Civil Aviation Organization. Finding effective, alternative fuels – namely biofuels – offers the best solution.

Why biofuels?

Microalgae seen under a microscope
Microalgae seen under a microscope

Biofuels are produced from several sources. Cereal and sugar crops, known as first-generation biofuels, have a high impact on land use and the food chain. Second generation biofuels, from non-food crops or forest residue, have a lower impact if policies for the use of marginal land are applied.

EADS focuses on third generation biofuels. Derived from algae, these have the most promising future. Algae can be mass grown in almost any location and, while they do not emit less CO2 than kerosene, they consume the gas when growing and so have a roughly neutral effect over their lifecycle. Furthermore, they do not compete with farmland and food production unlike first- and second-generation biofuels. This is clearly one of the most important conditions for further research.

At this year’s Berlin Air Show, EADS made the world’s first flight of an aircraft powered by pure biofuel derived from algae. The fuel has a higher energy content than kerosene and the exhaust gas from algae biofuel contains eight times less unburned hydrocarbons. In addition, nitrogen oxide and sulphur oxide emissions are reduced compared to conventional Jet A-1 fuel because of its low nitrogen and sulphur content.

Finding solutions together

The development of biofuels is still a relatively young industry with little industrialisation. But the technologies are well known and many small companies and research institutes have made remarkable progress with promising results. EADS is working with partners to lower costs and develop the necessary infrastructure for industrial production. With a smaller distribution system, fewer depots and consumers than needed for land-based transportation, implementing biofuels for aviation is comparatively easy. This should lead to a considerable competition to lower the entry barriers and increase profitability. According to analysts, the substitution of as little as 1% of the world’s Jet A-1 supply is necessary to uphold a viable market. EADS is inviting additional partners such as flight testing and fuel certification authorities to participate in tackling the next steps.

Biofuels made from algae might not be available as a complete substitute for petroleum-based fuel in sufficient quantities in the short to medium term. Nevertheless, they are an important element of the long-range strategy of the aviation industry to reduce its carbon footprint. For EADS as an aircraft manufacturer, it is therefore a priority to lead those efforts.

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EADS
www.eads.com

 
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