Taking Flight: How Aviation Biofuels Is Giving Air Travel a Green Kick In The Butt


Photo source: Green @ Work

Ahhh, airplanes. The quickest, most efficient way of travelling across the globe. You can from Winnipeg, Manitoba from Sao Paulo within one day.

The popularity of flying to other destinations is will continue to advance as the increasing middle class across emerging market countries is set to expand.

However, despite all the positives of air travel, there is one big concern that flying produces is the amount of carbon emissions it producers. Estimates have flying producing anywhere from 2% to 3% of total emissions. Meanwhile, the Air Transport Action Group (ATAG) notes that aviation is responsible for 12% of carbon emissions from all transportation sources. The aviation industry also produces an astonishing 676 million tonnes of carbon in 2011, according to the ATAG. Some analysts predict carbon emissions produced from aviation sources could be as high as 15% by 2050. Frightening thought.

While aviation may have a high carbon footprint and is not the stuff of many environmentalists, there is increasing hope sustainable air travel will take flight

Take for example, a few recent developments that lean this way.

One, Boeing, announced last month they are partnering up with the Commercial Aircraft Corporation of China (COMAC) in hopes to boost aviation biofuels in China. The project will look at improving energy efficiency, and creating biofuels within the emerging market. Not bad, considering, according to the Cleantechnica article last month that 300 million Chinese will take the skies in 2012 and 1.5 billion by 2030.

Meanwhile, United Airlines also at the same time last month signed up with the Sustainable Aviation Fuel Users Group. United Airlines in recent years has grabbed the sustainability headlines as the first major air carrier in the US to successfully fly a commercial flight in 2011 with biofuels. United also plans to buy 50 million gallons worth of biofuels, according to Cleantechnica.

Last but not least, the US military has pumped lots into developing aviation biofuel, thanks to support from the US government pumping US$510 million, according to a Globe and Mail article. And trust me, if there is any one that can bring down the cost of technology at a mass scale, it’s the US military, who honesty has a better chance of saving the environment than most granola munching hippies from Wolseley riding their bikes.

What may be the impact of aviation biofuels as we head down the road?

First it would help alleviate the dependency on fossil fuels to power flights especially for the military. US Navy secretary Ray Maybus echoed the importance of getting off of fossil fuels in a February interview with Biofuels Digest (reposted as noted by renewableenergyworld.com).

“We are too dependent on either potentially or actually volatile places on earth to get our energy. Now we’re susceptible to supply shocks and even if we’ve got enough, we’re susceptible to price shocks. I mean when the Libya situation started and the price of oil went up $40 a barrel, that was almost a billion dollars additional fuel bill for the U.S. Navy.”

Second, the idea of the aviation industry pushing towards cleaner fuels is important, given the popularity of air travel. With the population increasing and income levels of people in emerging markets growing, their demands will want higher end items like flying across the world. Flying is not going to stop overnight, despite it’s harsh impacts on the environment. Until there is an electric airplane that, aviation biofuels are the best hope of pushing towards environmental sustainability in the flying industry. Check this video out for example.

Third, new Markets for aviation biofuels. While is not considered the best biofuels, the rise of other types of biofuels, including cooking grease and algae, have recently gotten a lot of attention. In fact, the algae biofuel market is expected by 2014 to be at US$100 billion. That shows you a lot of potential.

There is a lot of hope with aviation biofuels in terms of getting us off oil, battling climate change, and creating new markets. With the world not set to back off flying in order to save the planet, perhaps this new flight path of aviation biofuels is our strongest plan, for now in terms of sustainable transcontinental travel.

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