Biofuels for aviation face numerous challenges in the journey from farm to flight. An EU-funded project has successfully demonstrated via test flights how biofuel can enter the aviation supply chain as a greener alternative to fossil fuels. Thousands of passengers have already taken flight on biofuel.
© Maksym Yemelyanov - fotolia.com
The EU-funded project ITAKA started in the field with studies on the production of sustainable camelina oil as a biomass feedstock for aviation fuel.
Camelina is an oilseed crop that can be grown by farmers in fallow or unproductive land, explains project coordinator Inmaculada Gomez Jimenez of SENASA, Spain. It has good performance in semi-arid regions with high drought tolerance compared to other oilseed crops.
ITAKA demonstrated that the crop can be produced on a commercial scale with studies in two European countries: Spain and Romania. Both showed the potential for acceptable yields without competing with food crops. In fact the crop also provides by-products that could be used in animal feed.
Two batches of biojet fuel were passed into the supply chain during the project: an initial batch derived from used and recycled cooking oil that was processed in the US and one made from over 1 000 tonnes of camelina oil produced during the project. The camelina oil was converted to biojet fuel in a biofuel refinery in Finland. Both batches were used to perform tests in different aircraft fuel systems.
Two series of flights where completed. The first series was made in 2014 with 18 long haul flights from Amsterdam to Aruba, the Dutch Caribbean Island off the coast of Venezuela, using an Airbus A330-200. For these flights, only one of the two engines used the biojet blend fuel to compare the performance of fuel with conventional aviation fuel. In total some 4 500 passengers were safely carried on these flights and no significant performance differences between the two fuels was observed.
The second flight series consisted of 80 short haul flights, from Oslo to Amsterdam, carrying about 8 000 passengers in total. These flights used the biojet blend in both engines. Again, no detrimental effects on operation were observed.
The flights were complemented with a series of laboratory-based emission measurements. These tests showed a small, but significant, fuel consumption decrease compared to conventional fuel. In addition the emitted particulate matter significantly decreased.
Particulate matter is a major air quality concern. ITAKA results show that the introduction of biojet fuel blends could significantly reduce the impact of these pollutants in the vicinity of airports, says Inmaculada.
The project also demonstrated that greenhouse gases savings can be as high as 66 % in scaled up production. Improved variety selection, better fertilisation strategy and more efficient oil extraction could take savings beyond 70 % in the short term.
Logistics and ETS
However, ITAKAs main achievement a World first was to demonstrate the use of a biofuel blend in conventional airport fuel systems. We have confirmed the logistics are economically viable, technically feasible and fully compliant with airport operations and users, says Inmaculada.
Since the end of 2015, all flights departing from Oslo Gardermoen airport have used aviation fuel that is a biofuel blend (below 3 %). This corresponds to well over 60 000 flights and six million passengers. The ITAKA project enabled the initial supply of biofuel and this is continuing.
The project enabled the first demonstration of the declaration of use of biojet as aviation fuel within the EUs Emissions Trading System (EU ETS). Subsequently the project also demonstrated an administrative process at Amsterdam Schiphol airport that enables biojet fuel to count towards national renewable energy targets and to account the emissions savings under the EU ETS.