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Experts say biofuel-powered commercial flights possible within five years

ATW Daily News by Perry Flint and Aaron Karp - 1 Apr.09

Sustainable biofuels could be in use by airlines by 2014, experts confirmed yesterday.

"We think it is quite reasonable that there will be commercial availability of some type in the next 3-5 years," Boeing Commercial Airplanes MD-Environmental Strategies Bill Glover said.

"One of the key enablers is really feedstock availability, the right feedstocks being available at the right price and with the right sustainability. . .It's a market that is going to evolve exponentially," added Jennifer Holmgren, VP and GM-Renewable Energy and Chemical for UOP, a Honeywell subsidiary, who along with Glover participated on a panel at the Aviation & Environment Summit in Geneva. She suggested steps may be necessary to "incentivize the first movers."

Airbus VP-Sustainability and Eco-Efficiency Christian Dumas said that by 2025 "quite a bit of biofuel could be available. . .and we hope we could go faster than that." He and others cited price as a key unknown.

Glover noted that at the environmental summit, TNT announced it is sponsoring the planting of 24 million jatropha plants in Malawi this year and over the next five years intends to plant 250 million. Last week Glover testified that aviation biofuels from jatropha, camelina and halophytes will be first, with algae a longer-term solution (ATWOnline, March 30). Holmgren said yesterday that another source, cellulosic material, could become available as well in "a five-year timeframe," although she noted there are challenges to be overcome.

Speaking yesterday at the FAA Aviation Forecast Conference in Washington, Boeing Commercial Airplanes President and CEO Scott Carson said he has been informed that camelina "is now going to planted on thousands of more acres [in North and South Dakota] than was planned [in those states] before the JAL test flight." Japan Airlines earlier this year operated a 747-300 partially powered by fuel derived primarily from camelina (ATWOnline, Feb. 2)

Carson stated that plant oil-derived biofuels are "the future of our industry" and dismissed as "naysayers" those who have questioned whether such energy sources are viable. "These are sustainable plant-based fuel sources that don't compete with food crops," he said, adding that the test flights by JAL and other carriers produced "initial results that are positive and included a dramatic improvement in carbon emissions on the test aircraft."

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