Greening the aviation industry with biofuels


In 2008 alone, US passenger and cargo airline operations required 16.1 billion gallons or approximately 382.4 million barrels of jet fuel. Aircraft emissions, ground transportation, and related travel in the airline and airports business contribute to air pollution and global warming, and carbon reduction in this area has long been an area of research.

Commercial aviation consumes 3.0 million barrels of jet fuel every day, which is close to 3.4 percent of the entire global liquid fuel consumption. This is only going to increase with 21,400 new aircraft to be delivered and included in the future fleet that will consist of 27,720-passenger aircraft and 4,280 freight aircraft. In order to curb CO2 emissions of this large fleet, a cleaner fuel is indispensable.

Frost & Sullivan Asia Pacific Consultant of Aerospace & Defense Practice Amartya De said: “A Boeing 737 burns about 3,000 liters of fuel and emits 6.5 tons of CO2 every flight hour. This is as good as the pollution caused by 1,540 small cars for a day. A one way flight between Hong Kong and London would dump 1 ton of CO2 per passenger into the atmosphere for the 9,600 km journey, and if there is no definite way to offset this amount of carbon very soon, we are surely not far from the tipping point.”

Presently the airline industry contributes only 2.0 percent of the overall man-made global CO2 emissions compared to other forms of transport that contribute 16.0 percent of the global manmade CO2 emissions. However, this 2.0 percent contribution to CO2 emissions is likely to touch 3.0 percent by 2050.

Amartya said that this large volume of jet fuel needs to be replaced by an alternative fuel as the financial impact and CO2 emissions are set to increase in the future. “Technological advances over the last forty years in the commercial aviation sector have reduced fuel consumption and CO2 emissions by 70 percent, noise by 75 percent, and unburned hydrocarbons by 90 percent,” said Amartya.

He also identified biofuels as an important step in achieving a greener aviation industry as biofuels are the only fuel type which plants absorb CO2 from the atmosphere when they are burnt to derive energy, helping to offset the emissions produced.

Amartya added: “Another important aspect of biofuels is that it should not compete with food crops, because if they do so, then it will lead to increased clearing of rain forests and that would, in fact, aggravate global warming. Biofuels such as jatropha do not compete with food or fresh water resources or cause deforestation and can be grown on marginal land in arid conditions. Alternative green fuels could be derived from algae or halophyte, which are known as second generation biofuels.”