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Home > Feature Articles > Logistics and Vehicle Fleet Management > Goods Movement

Sustainable Aviation Fuel Users Group Works on Sustainable Biofuels

Sustainable Aviation Fuel Users Group is an airline-led industry working group to promote sustainable, second-generation biofuels for the aviation industry.

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Airline industry intensifies efforts on sustainability practices for future aviation fuels

The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) joined Boeing, some of the world’s leading airlines, and Honeywell’s UOP, a refining technology developer to establish a group that will accelerate the development and commercialization of sustainable new aviation fuels.

Problem:Solution

Problem: Air travel contributes high levels of greenhouse gases directly into the atmosphere, contributing to climate change.

Solution: 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 higher levels of greenhouse gas emissions, especially high carbon tar sands and liquid coal.

Sustainable Aviation Fuel User Group

Since its launch in the fall of 2008, the Sustainable Aviation Fuel User Group has established a foundation of airlines, environmental organizations, research projects and practices and principles that can help accelerate the commercialization and availability of sustainable biofuels.

User Group members have pledged to work through the Roundtable for Sustainable Biofuels (RSB) a global multi-stakeholder initiative, consisting of leading environmental organizations, financiers, biofuel developers, biofuel-interested petroleum companies, the transportation sector, developing-world poverty alleviation associations, research entities, and governments.

All RSB and User Group members agree that working across sectors, interests and regions is the best approach to ensure the next generations of biofuels are developed in a sustainable manner.

Working through User Group representatives, aviation industry input is being included in "Version 1" RSB principles and standards, which will be the first widely reviewed and accepted set of international standards for sustainable biofuel production. These standards will be tested, improved and tailored via future User Group and RSB stakeholder efforts and verified through peer-reviewed research and development collaboration.

These strategic efforts by User Group members and RSB stakeholders are focused on making renewable fuel sources available that can reduce greenhouse gas emissions, while lessening commercial aviation's dependence on fossil fuels and potentially reduce aviation sector exposure to fuel price volatility.

In addition to previously announced research projects on algae and jatropha curcus the group will also launch a sustainability assessment of halophytes, a class of plants that thrive in saltwater habitat, later this year. That effort will assess lifecycle CO2 emissions and socio-economic impacts. Additional details will be announced closer to the project launch date. All of these sustainability assessments will be subject to scientific peer review and used by the RSB process to guide improvements to "Version 1."

According to a press release, UOP (affiliated with Honeywell) "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 (DARPA). 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."

Membership in Sustainable Aviation Fuel Users Group

Airline members include Alaska Airlines, British Airways, Cathay Pacific, TUIfly and Virgin Blue, Air France, Air New Zealand, ANA (All Nippon Airways), Cargolux, Gulf Air, Japan Airlines, KLM, SAS and Virgin Atlantic Airways. Boeing and Honeywell's UOP, a refining technology developer, are associate members.

To be eligible for membership, group members must subscribe to sustainability criteria that stipulate the following:

  • Jet fuel plant sources should be developed in a manner that is non-competitive with food and where biodiversity impacts are minimized; in addition, the cultivation of those plant sources should not jeopardize drinking water supplies.
  • Total lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions from plant growth, harvesting, processing and end-use should be significantly reduced compared to those associated with jet fuels from fossil sources.
  • In developing economies, development projects should include provisions or outcomes that improve socio-economic conditions for small-scale farmers who rely on agriculture to feed them and their families and that do not require the involuntary displacement of local populations.
  • High conservation value areas and native eco-systems should not be cleared and converted for jet fuel plant source development.

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Edited by Carolyn Allen, owner/editor of California Green Solutions
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