Biofuels and aviation

Using sustainable biofuels represents one of the most effective ways to reduce CO2 emissions in aviation. If the aviation sector switches to sustainable biofuels on a large scale, CO2 emissions can decrease by as much as 80%. Biofuel is therefore much more sustainable than fossil fuel, which is the current standard within the aviation sector. There are, however, still many problems in the way of a large-scale biofuel implementation within the aviation sector.

Biofuel in aviation

Related problems

The biofuel market is still very underdeveloped. The production is very inconsistent and price variations are large. Each of this factors prevents various airlines from even considering biofuels. Moreover, the prices of biofuels are still considerably higher than the prices of conventional energy sources. In 2013, for example, biofuel was 6 times as expensive as kerosene. Obviously, airlines are not ready to switch. The inconsistent supply of environmentally-friendly biofuels does not make their usage any more attractive.

Future planning

Several years ago the leading airlines and aircraft manufacturers have signed a challenging environmentally-friendly agreement. According to this agreement, the fuel efficiency of the aircrafts must increase by not less than 1.5% by the year 2020. Moreover, the European Union is planning to drastically decrease the amount of CO2 emissions from the atmosphere, with the new laws planned for 2020. By the middle of this century, airlines must produce twice as little CO2 emissions as they did in 2011. These goals are very ambitious and big changes have to happen to make them possible. One of the possible ways to reach the desired levels of CO2 emissions by 2050 – is using the biofuels. Biofuels will significantly reduce the emissions, even if they constitute only 4% of the total amount of fuels in aviation.

The biggest drawback here is the cost of environmentally-friendly biofuels. Currently, the majority of the types of biofuel cost twice to three times as much as the conventional kerosene. Some researchers believe that as the biofuel production will grow, the prices will start decreasing. The conventional energy sources, on the other hand, will become more and more expensive. That means that biofuels may become more economically advantageous already in the near future.

Another factor limiting the usage of biofuels in aviation is that it’s impossible to use some types of biofuel at high altitudes. Biodiesel fuels tend to thicken or even crystallize under low-temperature conditions. However, for successful implementation in aviation the new types of fuel must have similar characteristics to conventional kerosene. This will allow to avoid replacing the expensive plane engines, and in some cases even whole airplanes. For this reason, most of the current biofuel-research is devoted to developing new types of fuel, as well as new production technologies.

Combining biofuel with conventional fuel

Currently almost all types of biofuel have to be combined with certain amounts of traditional fuels before they are used in aviation. The most important factor in the development of such fuel compositions is to maintain a good balance between price, amount of harmful emissions and specific consumption of the mixture. Thousands of planes, including commercial flights, have already been flying on biofuels or biofuel-based mixtures, to test the existing solutions.

Unfortunately Sustainable Aviation Fuels (SAFs) aren’t available on large scale yet, especially if you’re a consumer. If you’d still like to fly and do something back for nature, we recommend booking through FlyGRN. They’re a flight search engine that offers similar price tickets and automatically offset carbon emissions. You can also offset your flight’s emissions afterwards.