Exploring Sustainable Biofuels for Aviation

By Pauline Lacroix (Air France and Jacqueline Houweling, KLM), AIR FRANCE KLM
12:22 PM, July 14, 2014

Air France - KLM considers the transition from fossil fuels to renewables as a priority to ensure the future of commercial aviation. The Group’s strategy is to explore the entire value chain, from research to commercialization, and to set an example for the rest of the industry. Partnerships are important to accelerate the development of a market for sustainable biofuels.

As an airline group, Air France - KLM connects people, economies, and cultures. The aviation industry currently generates approximately 2 percent of man-made greenhouse gas emissions, and this figure
is expected to rise over the coming decades due to the increasing number of people traveling by plane.

In order to reduce its environmental footprint, Air France - KLM adopted its Climate Action Plan in 2007, which focuses on improving operational efficiency, pursuing fleet modernization, offsetting emissions, and creating sustainable alternative fuels. In six years, the Group has reduced fuel consumption by nearly 7 percent per passenger (3.5 liters / passenger / 100 km).

Biofuel Initiative France

At the Paris Air Show in June 2013, Airbus, Air France, Safran, French civil aviation authorities (DGAC), and Total organized the “Joining Our Energies – Biofuel Initiative France” flight to illustrate the French industry’s technical capacity to integrate aviation biofuels and to underscore the need to improve research on
the development of sustainable biofuels with a view to creating a French biofuel industry. Because the aviation industry has no alternative to liquid fuels of fossil origin, the use of biofuels is essential
for drastically reducing CO2 emissions.

An Airbus A321 equipped with Sharklets and powered by CFM56s made this demonstration flight between Toulouse and Le Bourget using a Bio-jet A-1 Total / Amyris, which is a biofuel produced through an innovative sugar-transformation technology.

For several years, Total, Safran, Airbus, and Air France have been researching, innovating, and reflecting on future aviation fuels at the national and international levels. This is an innovative industrial approach to guarantee that the aeronautical industry has a sustainable future.

Corporate BioFuel Program

Launched in June 2012, KLM’s Corporate BioFuel Program is one of the innovations that has been brought forth by the partnership with WWF-Netherlands. Together with WWF-NL, KLM is working on making the airline industry more sustainable, with a focus on biofuels. Sustainable biofuel is a so-called second generation biofuel, such as used cooking oil, which has no impact on food production and the environment.

Participants pay a premium – the price difference between biofuel and traditional kerosene. This allows staff of the contracted companies to fly specific routes for company travel on sustainable biofuel. The surcharge is used to purchase biofuel, which is added to the fuel system at Amsterdam Airport Schiphol. As is the case with green energy, the biofuel is distributed across the entire network, which means other airlines also get a
mixture. Therefore, the efforts of KLM and its partners not only help to reduce their ecological footprint but also benefit the industry as a whole. The program aims to stimulate the development and production of biofuels, thereby reducing the aviation industry’s carbon footprint. In one year, the number of program partners has more than doubled to 14.

Photo: Air France, KLM
Photo: Air France, KLM

JFK series

After several demonstration and commercial flights, including the first transatlantic “Bio2Rio” flight on sustainable biofuel, KLM – in partnership with the Schiphol Group, Delta Air Lines, and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey – initiated a joint project that resulted in a series of weekly biofuelpowered flights between New York and Amsterdam for a period of six months, starting March 8, 2013. The sustainable jet fuel used during these flights was 100 percent US-produced fuel made from used cooking oil and camelina oil, sourced and supplied by SkyNRG.

This flight series also marked the beginning of the Optimal Flight Program. In this pilot, KLM – together with Boeing, Amsterdam Airport Schiphol, Air Traffic Control in the Netherlands, as well as research partners (TU Delft, NLR) – combined the use of biofuel with other efficiency measures to reduce fuel consumption and CO2 emissions. Some of the methods demonstrated for reducing fuel consumption and CO2 emissions
were: shorter taxiing routes; gradual climbs; optimized routes; speed and altitude adjustments; weight reductions on board; and electrical power supplied from the airport instead of aircraft. The ultimate goal is to implement process changes that are operationally feasible. This integrated approach resulted in a fuel savings of almost 5 percent compared to regular flight schemes.

Monitoring the atmosphere

Air France volunteered to participate in the IAGOS (In-Service Aircraft for a Global Observing System) program, which monitors climate and atmospheric pollution around the world. Since mid-June 2013, the airline has been fitted with atmospheric measuring equipment to record the concentrations of greenhouse gases, cloud particles, and so on.

Unlike traditional means of observation (probe balloons, satellites, etc.), commercial aircraft fly at cruising altitude for many hours, making frequent and diverse data collection possible. These measurements are then automatically transferred to the National Center for Scientific Research via a cell phone built into the system before this data is made available to international weather centers and scientists around the world. The Air France A340s equipped with these instruments will carry the slogan “Monitoring for Climate Research” and will serve the Caribbean and West Africa, among other destinations – areas of the world that are not widely covered by the other airlines supporting this project.

By volunteering to participate in this program, Air France demonstrates its commitment to increase knowledge about the environmental effects of air transport.

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Lacroix, Pauline

AIR FRANCE KLM, the result of a merger between AIR FRANCE and KLM in 2004, is one of the leading European air transport groups. Its main activities are the air transport of passengers and cargo as well as aircraft maintenance. In 2011, AIR FRANCE KLM carried 75.8 million passengers and 1.1 million tonnes of cargo. The group's fleet comprises more 586 aircraft, including 173 regional aircraft operated by its partners Brit Air, City Jet, Regional and KLM Cityhopper. Its network covers 230 destinations in 113 countries from its hubs at Paris-Charles de Gaulle and Amsterdam-Schiphol. The Flying Blue frequent flyer programme is leader in Europe and has over 20 million members.

The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect CSR Manager's editorial policy.
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