Aviation biofuel is a biofuel used for aircraft. It is considered by some to be the primary means by which the aviation industry can reduce its carbon footprint. After a multi-year technical review from aircraft makers, engine manufacturers and oil companies, biofuels were approved for commercial use in July 2011. Since then, some airlines have experimented with using biofuels on commercial flights. The focus of the industry has now turned to second generation sustainable biofuels (sustainable aviation fuels) that do not compete with food supplies nor are major consumers of prime agricultural land or fresh water. NASA has determined that 50% aviation biofuel mixture can cut air pollution caused by air traffic by 50-70%.
The sustainable aviation fuels certification and production pace seems insufficient to meet the IATA target of halving the CO2 emissions by 2050.
Trials of using algae as biofuel were carried out by Lufthansa, and Virgin Atlantic as early as 2008, although there is little evidence that using algae is a reasonable source for jet biofuels. By 2015, cultivation of fatty acid methyl esters and alkenones from the algae, Isochrysis, was under research as a possible jet biofuel feedstock.
As of 2017, there was little progress in producing jet fuel from algae, with a forecast that only 3 to 5% of fuel needs could be provided from algae by 2050. Further, algae companies that formed in the early 21st century as a base for an algae biofuel industry have either closed or changed their business development toward other commodities, such as cosmetics, animal feed, or specialty oil products.
Rationale for aviation biofuels
Aviation's share of the greenhouse gas emissions is poised to grow, as air travel increases and ground vehicles use more alternative fuels like ethanol and biodiesel. Currently aviation represents 2% of global emissions, but is expected to grow to 3% by 2050. In addition to building more fuel efficient aircraft and operating them more efficiently, changing the fuel source is one of the few options the aviation industry has for reducing its carbon footprint. While solar, electric and hydrogen propelled aircraft are being researched, it is not expected they will be feasible in the near or medium term due to aviation's need for high power-to-weight ratio and globally compatible infrastructure.
Industry commitments and collaborations
The International Air Transport Association (IATA) supports research, development and deployment of alternative fuels. IATA thinks a 6% share of sustainable 2nd generation biofuels is achievable by 2020, and Boeing supports a target of 1% of global aviation fuels by 2015. This is in support of the goals of the aviation industry reaching carbon neutral growth by 2020 and a 50% decrease in carbon emissions by 2050 (relative to a 2005 baseline)
A group of interested airlines has formed the Sustainable Aviation Fuel Users Group (SAFUG). The group was formed in 2008 in cooperation with support from NGOs such as Natural Resources Defense Council and The Roundtable For Sustainable Biofuels (RSB). Member airlines represent more than 15% of the industry, and all member CEOs have signed a pledge to work on the development and use of sustainable biofuels for aviation.
Boeing is joining other aviation-related members in the Algal Biomass Organization (ABO).