Air France – KLM
Sustainable biofuels are one of the most promising routes to achieve significant reductions in aviation’s CO2 emissions
Climate change is one of the largest environmental challenges facing our planet. Worldwide, the airline industry is responsible for 2-3% of global man-made CO2 emissions. Air France- KLM is playing its part in the collective effort to further reduce emissions, via ongoing fleet renewal, a dynamic fuel reduction programme as well as being actively involved in the development of sustainable biofuels. This will, in the future, enable them to reduce their carbon footprint and dependence on fossil fuels.
Biofuels are liquid fuels produced from organic material called biomass; which makes it a form of renewable energy. Burning biofuels emit the same amount of CO2 as fossil kerosene: 3.15 metric tons of CO2 per ton kerosene burnt. However, only the CO2 that was absorbed by the biomass during its growth re-emits in the atmosphere. A study on biomass (camelina) life cycle (growth, harvest, treatment and final use) carried out by Michigan Technological University has shown a CO2 reduction of up to 80% compared with fossil fuels.
Some biofuels have been criticised in recent years. Air France-KLM is very aware of this debate and has committed itself to strict sustainability criteria from the start of its Biofuels programme, for example through signing the pledge with the Sustainable Aviation Fuel Users group (www.safug. org). They are also committed to following developments in this field carefully through various platforms in order to promote sustainable biofuel production and avoid negative environmental or social impacts. And SkyNRG, the Joint Venture that KLM started in 2009 together with North Sea Group and Spring Associates, is advised by an independent Sustainability Board on the sustainability aspects of the chosen biofuels.
Biofuels need to comply with the same technical specifications as traditional kerosene so they remain safe and aircraft engines and airport infrastructure do not need to be modified. A year and a half after the demonstration flight of KLM in November 2009 –the first demonstration flight worldwide with observers on board, a new phase of certification began globally and operating commercial flights became allowed this Summer. KLM again had a worldwide first on June 29th, when a commercial line flight from Amsterdam to Paris with 171 passengers took off with 50% fossil kerosene and 50% fuel from Used Cooking Oil. From September 30th onwards, KLM continues with a series of commercial flights between Amsterdam and Paris on sustainable biofuels. The fuel is produced by Dynamic Fuels and supplied by SkyNRG.
Sustainable biofuels are one of the most promising routes to achieving significant reductions in aviation CO2 emissions. They will be essential in achieving the ambitions of the aviation industry, which has no alternative to liquid fuels. Technical breakthroughs on solar or battery-powered aircraft are not expected in the medium to short term. Biofuels are therefore the best alternative to achieving a reduction in CO2 emissions. As the amount of sustainably grown biomass for liquid biofuels is limited, Air France-KLM calls for comprehensive legislation and policies that focus on using these scarce resources in those sectors which do not currently have an alternative to liquid fuels. This vision is shared by WWF in their recently issued Energy Report. To be effective, a response to environmental challenges must be international. An important step forward was taken in 2010, when 174 member countries of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) adopted a resolution which includes an objective to cut the aviation industry’s CO2 emissions.
The route to 100% sustainable energy is enormously challenging. Biofuels are still very expensive due to the absence of a market at present and the high cost of raw materials. Ultimately, once demand begins to grow, technology further develops and legislation is effectively curbed, the price of sustainable biofuels should fall. Now that biofuels have been certified, Air France-KLM hopes that an increasing number of carriers will follow its example.
The EU needs to have certainty on sustainable biofuels. Biofuel pilots, while currently underway, need financial and regulatory support, e.g. biofuel blending projects. EU ETS monitoring and reporting requirements additionally need to take aviation biofuels into account. Earmarking of emissions trading scheme revenues for projects truly reducing aviation’s carbon footprint would be extremely helpful. In addition, aviation carbon reduction projects should benefit from EU R&D funds.