boeing-flies.jpgBoeing last week joined Virgin Atlantic and eight other major air carriers, along with Honeywell’s energy arm, in an organized effort to develop new sustainable aviation fuels that will lower carbon emissions and free the airlines from the grip of high oil prices.

The Sustainable Aviation Fuel Users Group is supported by and collaborating with the World Wildlife Fund and Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC).

Airlines supporting the sustainable fuels initiative collectively account for approximately 15 percent of commercial jet fuel use. Virgin Atlantic Airways is leading the way, along with Air France, Air New Zealand, ANA (All Nippon Airways), Cargolux, Gulf Air, Japan Airlines, KLM, and SAS.

All group members subscribe to a sustainability pledge stipulating that any sustainable biofuel must perform at least as well as kerosene-based fuel and that minimize biodiversity impacts: fuels that require minimal land, water and energy to produce, and that don’t compete with food or fresh water resources. In addition, cultivation and harvest of plant stocks must provide socioeconomic value to the local communities.

The group has announced two initial research projects funded by Boeing, to assess the viability of two leading contenders for plant-based renewable jet fuel: jatropha curcas and algae.

“This taskforce comes at just the right time to help airlines cut costs and decrease their greenhouse gas emissions,” said Liz Barratt-Brown, NRDC senior attorney. “If done right, sustainable biofuels could lower the airlines’ carbon footprint at a time when all industries need to be moving away from fuels with high levels of greenhouse gas emissions, especially high carbon tar sands and liquid coal.”

In May,  Honeywell’s energy LLC, UOP, announced it would also partner with Airbus, JetBlue Airways, and International Aero Engines in a similar effort to study sustainable biofuels for jets.

UOP, a leading developer of refining technology, has already developed process technology to convert natural oils and greases to military jet fuel as part of a project funded by the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. The process technology produces “green” jet fuel that is a drop-in replacement for traditional kerosene-based jet fuel and meets all the critical performance specifications for flight. This technology is also viable for use in the production of jet fuel for commercial jets.

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