Boeing, Embraer and Inter-American Development Bank look at producing jet fuel from sugarcane

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Boeing, Embraer, and the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) will jointly fund a sustainability analysis of producing renewable jet fuel sourced from Brazilian sugarcane. The study will evaluate environmental and market conditions associated with the use of renewable jet fuel produced by Amyris. The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) will serve as an independent reviewer and advisor.

“Emerging renewable jet fuel technologies have the potential to reduce greenhouse gas emissions significantly, as sugarcane ethanol in Brazil has already proven,” said Arnaldo Vieira de Carvalho, leader of the IDB Sustainable Aviation Biofuels Initiative.
“This study will examine the overall potential for sustainable, large-scale production of alternative jet fuels made from sugarcane.”

Last month, the IDB announced a regional cooperation grant to help public and private institutions develop a sustainable biojet fuels industry. The Amyris study is the first to be financed under that grant.

The study will be led by ICONE, a research think-tank in Brazil with extensive experience in agriculture and biofuels analysis, and independently reviewed by the WWF. Scheduled for completion in early 2012, the study will include a complete lifecycle analysis of the emissions associated with Amyris’s renewable jet fuel, including indirect land use change and effects. In addition, the study will include benchmarking of cane-derived renewable jet fuel against major sustainability standards, including the Bonsucro, the Roundtable on Sustainable Biofuels and the IDB Biofuel Scorecard.
“Collaborative research into the cane-to-jet pathway is important for diversifying aviation’s fuel supplies, and also builds on the strong renewable energy cooperation established between the Unites States and Brazil,” said Boeing Vice President of Environment and Aviation Policy Billy Glover.
“With aviation biofuel now approved for use in commercial jetliners, understanding and ensuring the sustainability of sources that can feed into region supply chains is critical and Brazil has a strong role to play there. This project also expands upon existing collaboration between Amyris, the State Government of Queensland, and Boeing.”
“Last month, ASTM International created a task force to establish product specifications for direct sugar-to-hydrocarbon renewable jet fuels, such as that being developed by Amyris. We are committed not only to delivering on the technical specifications for our jet fuel but also to ensuring that our renewable products are produced sustainably,” said John Melo, CEO of Amyris.
“Our planet derives no benefit from a fuel that merely replaces current fossil fuels. This study will help us replace fossil fuels with a renewable jet fuel that surpasses both technical and sustainability criteria.”
“Participation in this important study is one more step for Embraer to support the development of sustainable biofuels for aviation,” said Guilherme de Almeida Freire, Embraer Director, Environmental Strategy and Technology.
“Brazil is a rich source of biomass, and the maturation of this technology, based on sugarcane, reinforces the importance that the Nation gives to the sustainable growth of aviation.”
“Climate change is threatening biodiversity and the critical habitats of some the world’s most iconic species,” said Kevin Ogorzalek, Program Officer at World Wildlife Fund.
“As renewable jet fuel production increases, it must be done in a transparent and sustainable way. We’re eager to contribute to this study as one part of a growing international effort to reduce the fast-growing emissions from aviation and protect the critical resources on which we all depend.”

Aviation biofuels are becoming increasingly popular companies become concerned about the environment, the price of oil and carbon taxes. European airlines in particular are pressing ahead with biofuel plans in order to cut use of regular jet fuel. A pact signed last month with biofuel producers and the EU Commission aims to produce two million tonnes of biofuel for aviation by 2020.

On July 15 Lufthansa became the first airline to use biofuels on regular commercial flights as part of a six month trial that it estimates will reduce CO2 emissions by up to 1 500 tonnes during the period. The inaugural flight was expected to save 1 metric tonne of CO2.

Lufthansa is using a mix of regular fuel and biofuel made by Neste Oil from jatropha and camelina crops and animal fats, in one engine of an Airbus plane on daily flights between Frankfurt and Hamburg.

Air France-KLM and Britain’s Thomson Airways have said they will run commercial flights starting from September using a biofuel mix made from used cooking oil.

Jatropha, a toxic wild plant which originated in Central America, is gaining importance as a biofuel crop, as it is relatively easy to grow and does not affect food production, as does crops like sugarncane and corn.

Jatropha can grow on barren, marginal land and does not need much water. It has gained popularity in countries like China that would like to fuel cars with biodiesel without threatening the country’s food supply.

The crop may also assist some economies in adapting their agriculture as many developing countries are to face drier weather and water shortages because of global warming.