Spanish Government, Iberia, and Airbus launch bio-fuel initiative


The Spanish government, Iberia Airlines and Airbus have signed an agreement to develop a complete Spanish ‘value chain’ for sustainable and renewable aviation bio-fuel. Other key members are expected to join the agreement shortly, Airbus has said.

Signatories to the agreement include Antonio Vazquez, Iberia chairman, Tom Enders, Airbus president and CEO, state secretary of Transport Isaias Taboas, and Eugenia Llorens, president of state aviation company Senasa.

The agreement was signed during Aerodays 2011 sessions, organised by the CDTI (Centre for Industrial Technology Development) and the European Commission.

The agreement promotes and backs initiatives to develop a complete bio-fuel production chain for Spanish aviation, using sustainable resources from production to consumption in commercial aviation. The value chain brings together farmers, refiners and airlines.
“The implementation of biofuels by the Spanish aviation industry for the development of a complete Spanish “value chain” is a goal that will reduce our dependency on fossil energy, make our companies more competitive by reducing costs associated to CO2 and create value and wealth in other sectors of our national economy,” said Isaías Táboas. “We are fully confident that both, the public and private sector can cooperate in the development and implementation of this initiative.”
“Climate change is a major challenge for our industry. The aviation sector’s ambitious CO2 reduction target is only possible if bio-fuels become a reality. Under this initiative, Iberia brings extensive experience in flight operations and in aircraft maintenance to perform the necessary tests that will make this goal a reality”, said Antonio Vazquez.
“Biofuels are a must for aviation to achieve our industry’s ambitious CO2 reduction targets. In fact, we believe that biofuels should primarily be reserved for aviation as our industry has no other viable alternative energy source,” said Tom Enders. “All industry players including governments have a role in helping to reduce global CO2 emission levels. Airbus is supporting value chains to accelerate the commercialisation of aviation bio-fuels.”

Phase one of the project will be the feasibility study. Phase two, will narrow down the most promising solutions to a demonstration level, and phase three from 2014 onwards will look at implementation and scaling up of the production process.

The initiative is being lead by the Air Safety State-Agency (AESA) and the Services and Studies for Air Navigation and Aeronautical Safety/Observatory of Sustainability in Aviation (SENASA/OBSA), under the Ministries of the Environment, of Public works and of the Industry.

Earlier this month Airbus signed a similar agreement with Tarom of Romania. Under the agreement, Airbus will establish a facility in Romania to produce aviation biofuel from camelina.

At the moment the project is undergoing a year-long feasibility study to evaluate potential sites across the country. Airbus and Tarom are aiming to carry out biofuel test flights and then build up production to supply 25% of Tarom’s annual fuel. The long-term aim is to scale up production to make the fuel available to other airlines, says Paul Nash, Airbus head of new energies.
“It will be five to 10 years before we’re up to commercial scale – we’re talking vast amounts of biofuels in the thousands and thousands of tonnes,” he says.

Airbus plans to establish at least one aviation biofuel facility on each continent. Nash said Airbus is working to secure projects in Asia and Africa and will make further announcements before next year.

Earlier this year Airbus announced that it, TAM Airlines and a group of specialist companies including BP are working to establish a bio-kerosene jet-fuel processing plant in Brazil, aiming to gradually substitute fossil fuel in aviation with biofuel.

The project will use a variety of biomass sources, such as the Jatropha plant, which will be grown in Brazil. The processing plant should start operations in 2013 with initial processing capacity of 80 000 tonnes per annum of the fuel.

The group of companies driving the biofuel initiative is led by Curcas, which specialises in Brazilian renewable energy project development, and the Brazilian biofuel producer, Brasil Ecodiesel. In parallel, Airbus and AirBP – the jet fuel distribution unit of BP – are providing their support to the project.

There has been a lot of interest around the world in the use of biofuel to power aircraft, especially since the air transport industry contributes 2% of global man-made CO2 emissions, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Airbus is not the only company exploring the use of biofuels, as many of the biggest airlines are looking at alternative energy sources. Flight International reported that Qatar Airways has launched a Biofuel Platform consortium in January, with involvement from Airbus. Boeing is in the process of setting up a biofuel research institute in Abu Dhabi, Flight International said.

A number of airlines have flown aircraft using a biofuel and jet fuel mix, including United, KLM, TAM, Qatar Airways, JAL, Continental Airlines, Air New Zealand and Virgin Atlantic, the Air Transport Action Group (ATAG) reports.

The military has also expressed interest in aviation biofuels, particularly the United States Air Force, which aims to acquire half of its domestic jet fuel from domestically derived alternative sources by 2016. In recent tests, the US Air Force flew a Boeing C-17 Globemaster III and Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor using jet fuel blended with biofuel the US Air Force reports.

Proponents of biofuels argue that they are renewable and can help fight climate change because the growing plants take up as much carbon dioxide from the air as the fuels made from them emit when burned, Reuters reports. However, critics such as Friends of the Earth argue that there is a risk of biofuel crops infringing on land that could be used for growing food and driving up food prices.