Wednesday, 8 June 2011

Airlines back biofuels

26 May 2011, Page: 8

The development of commercially viable and sustainable biofuels is essential for the aviation industry to become carbon neutral by 2020, industry players say. The International Civil Aviation Organisation has earmarked 2020 as the year when the industry will achieve carbon neutral growth. It is targeting 2% annual fuel efficiency improvements from now until then.

Boeing Australia and South Pacific president Ian Thomas says initiatives such as lighter, more aerodynamic aircraft, advances in engine technology and better air traffic control systems will help, but aren't enough to achieve the desired result. "That will probably get us to about half way in terms of our goal of carbon neutrality", Dr Thomas said at the launch of a CSIRO report, Flight Path to Sustainable Aviation, yesterday. "The other half of the picture is biofuels sustainable aviation biofuels. "Not taking farm produce off somebody's plate, but really using byproducts of current industries that don't threaten food stocks".

The CSIRO report was commissioned by the Sustainable Aviation Fuel Users Group, which includes Air New Zealand, Qantas and Virgin Australia, as well as aircraft manufactures Boeing and Airbus. The report was also prepared with the Defence Science and Technology Organisation and The Climate Group. "Sustainable aviation fuels derived from biomass are a feasible option", the report said. "There is sufficient existing sustainable biomass to support a local bio derived jet fuel industry".

The report says Australia and New Zealand are strongly positioned to produce sustainable aviation fuels that comply with social, environmental and economic criteria. This includes not impacting on food security or the environment. CSIRO economist Paul Graham says sources of biomass include crop stubble, forest residues and urban waste. Potential new sources are grasses, Jatropha seeds and algae, among others.

Climate Group global director of energy Rupert Posner says effectively dealing with climate change means finding solutions that maintain or improve people's quality of life. "Not flying is simply not a solution", he said. The report says turning biomass into jet fuel may generate more than 12,000 jobs in Australia and New Zealand over the next 20 years and reduce aviation fuel imports by $2 billion a year. Crude oil prices are about $US100 a barrel.

The development of a local biofuel production industry requires government support, and Virgin Australia executive Merren McArthur is urging Canberra to get on board. The CSIRO report found the global aviation industry was responsible for 2% of annual greenhouse emissions.