This is an update on stories earlier last year. The take home message is that the aviation industry is unexpectedly a possible earlier adopter of algae based fuels. They simply have the flexibility to make a swift conversion and the ability to finance supply.
Once others wake up to this fact it is certain that many other potential suppliers will get their act together. It is easy to envisage hauling truckloads of fuel to the airlines. It is much harder to believe that the local Exxon petrol station will welcome your appearance for half a truck load.
With the industry actively looking for a real answer to their fuel exposure, it is going to be solved fast. Recall that they were nearly bankrupted by $140 oil and the industry was thrown backwards by years on their business models.
These guys are totally motivated to exit the oil industry just as soon as possible, the devil take the hindmost.
If I were operating any form of biofuel business today, I would down tools and focus on this niche right now.
The airlines want long term contracts for supply at fixed prices which is exactly what a biofuel producer can produce.
January 7 2009
Flying on Vegetables
By Matthew L. Wald
Crude oil from algae manufactured by Sapphire Energy for Continental Airlines. Converting the airline industry to biofuels may be easier than converting the car market.
The scheduled flight on Wednesday of a Continental Airlines 737 fueled in part by biofuels made from jatropha and algae was experimental (see my report on the state of biofuels in the airline industry from Wednesday’s paper here). But if the fuel can be certified by international standards agencies, it could become as common as, say, ethanol added to gasoline.
It might be even more so, because the goal is a “drop-in” substitute that can be used at any percentage, in any jet or any airport fueling system.
In theory, people in the industry say, replacing petroleum in airplanes could be easier than replacing it in cars, even though jet fuel has to meet specifications that are of little concern on the highway, like weight (hauling fuel is a major use of fuel, after all), or how well it flows at 40 degrees below zero, which is a temperature big planes face for hours as they cruise in the stratosphere.
Because fuel quality has such importance to safety, some energy experts thought aviation would be the last to switch. “For 40 years we had the philosophy we’d be the ones using the last drop of oil,’’ said Carl E. Burleson, director of the Federal Aviation Administration’s Office of Environment and Energy.
But compared to the market for gasoline or diesel, the market for jet fuel is simpler, industry experts say.
The number of fueling stations and customers are both much smaller than for motor vehicle fuel, making marketing easier. The number of engine manufacturers is smaller, too, so there are fewer parties to convince when switching to something new. And unlike the specifications for gasoline, which vary from state to state and country to country, there is a single standard for jet fuel, regardless of where it is sold.
As with substitute motor fuels, though, substitute jet fuel has mixed environmental implications. European carriers have tested fuel made from palm oil, but recent studies have persuaded some environmentalists that clearing tropical jungle to make space for palm plantations is a mistake, releasing more greenhouse gases than the new fuel will save. And the only petroleum substitute in common use now is made from coal, a switch that can save money and petroleum but makes greenhouse gas problems worse.
The precise carbon effect of using algae, jatropha or other substitutes will be studied closely and probably litigated, because airlines say they want to use such fuels to meet European regulations taking effect in the next few years, which will force them to cut carbon output or buy carbon allowances.