Introduction to Aviation Biofuels

The commercial aviation industry has identified biofuels as a primary opportunity to reduce its impact on climate change. Relative to fossil fuels, which release long-stored carbon into the atmosphere, plant-based renewable fuels are considered to produce significantly lower carbon emissions during their life cycle. This is because, while in the ground, plants absorb CO2 and then when converted to fuel, release roughly the same amount of CO2 during combustion. MASBI is focusing its biofuels work on second generation or advanced biofuels which are energy crops that do not compete with food supply or consume valuable land and water resources.

The industry has been hard at work to make advanced aviation biofuels a reality. In 2009, ASTM International, the worldwide standards body that establishes jet fuel specification requirements, approved ASTM D7566. This new fuel specification enables the use of fuels from the Fischer-Tropsch (FT) process to be used on aircraft in a blend with conventional jet fuel of up to 50%. In 2011, certification was extended to allow hydroprocessed esters and fatty acids (HEFA) or hydrotreated renewable jet (HRJ) to be used on aircraft also in a blend with conventional jet fuel of up to 50%. All ASTM certified fuels must be drop-in, meaning no modifications to the aircraft or equipment are needed for fuel use. In the few short years since ASTM certification has been achieved, over 1,500 passenger biofuel flights have been flown to date. This includes the first U.S. commercial passenger biofuel flight flown by United Airlines on November 7th, 2011 using algae based advanced biofuel that was blended with traditional jet fuel.

For additional information, please view the Air Transport Action Group’s Beginner’s Guide to Aviation Biofuels.