Lufthansa will become the first airline to use biofuel on commercial flights in April, when it starts a six-month trial using an Airbus A321 aircraft on the Hamburg-Frankfurt route. One of the aircraft’s two International Aero Engines (IAE) V2500 powerplants will use a 50-50 mix of biofuel and traditional kerosene. The German airline’s Chief Executive Officer Wolfgang Mayrhuber says the primary goal is to conduct a long-term trial to study the effect of biofuel on engine maintenance and engine life. During the six-month trial, Lufthansa estimates it will cut its carbon dioxide emissions by about 1,500 tonnes.
4th Apr 2011
Lufthansa will become the first airline to use biofuel on commercial flights in April, when it starts a six-month trial using an Airbus A321 aircraft on the Hamburg-Frankfurt route.
One of the aircraft’s two International Aero Engines (IAE) V2500 powerplants will use a 50-50 mix of biofuel and traditional kerosene.
The German airline’s Chief Executive Officer Wolfgang Mayrhuber says the primary goal is to conduct a long-term trial to study the effect of biofuel on engine maintenance and engine life. During the six-month trial, Lufthansa estimates it will cut its carbon dioxide emissions by about 1,500 tonnes.
With its current national Aeronautical Research Programme (LuFo), the German government is supporting the country’s aviation industry in its efforts to establishing a safe, clean air traffic system. Close to 77 percent of LuFo funding is directly or indirectly related to the environment and sustainability.
Lufthansa’s ‘burnFAIR’ alternative-fuel testing project is part of its overall ‘Future Aircraft Research’ (FAIR) initiative, which also tackles other issues such as new engine and aircraft concepts. The German government is contributing 5 million euros towards FAIR, half of which is for fuel research.
The burnFAIR project is intended to research viable alternatives to conventional aviation fuel. Among its aims is to gather long-term data on pollutants from biofuel compared with those produced by conventional kerosene.
The measured data will allow Lufthansa not only to draw conclusions about biofuel compatibility, but also about related engine-maintenance needs. The airline expects to find a significant reduction in soot particles, for example.
“Aside from the actual research programme, the acquisition of biofuel in sufficient quantity and the complex logistics had proved a challenge in the run-up to the trial,” Mayrhuber says. The aircraft can be fuelled up only in Hamburg.
The project will cost Lufthansa an estimated 6.6 million euros (US$9.24 million).
“In the procurement of biofuel, we ensure it originates from a sustainable supply and production process. Our licensed suppliers must provide proof of the sustainability of their processes,” Mayrhuber said.
The bio-synthetic kerosene used by Lufthansa is produced by Neste Oil, a fuel refining and marketing company based in Finland. The company has years of experience in biofuel production and has cooperated with Lufthansa for many years. The fuel has been awarded International Sustainability and Carbon Certification, a strict sustainability check recognised by German authorities.
Biofuel use is just one element in a four-pillar strategy aimed at reducing overall air traffic emissions.
“Ambitious environmental goals can only be achieved in future with a combination of various measures, like ongoing fleet renewal, operational measures such as engine washing and infrastructural enhancements,” Mayrhuber says.
Projects dedicated to these themes are also underway under the national LuFo research programme. Lufthansa itself has improved its fuel-efficiency by 30 percent since 1991. Average fuel consumption per passenger is now down to 4.3 litres of kerosene per 100km flown.
IATA spokesman Albert Tjoeng says one of the main reasons for operational biofuel trials such as Lufthansa’s is to examine issues such as introducing the fuel into airports’ delivery systems.
“It is also a positive sign of the confidence the industry has shown in biofuels and will be an indication to suppliers that aviation is a serious customer [that] they should be supplying in the mid-to long-term,” Tjoeng says.
In June 2010, IATA Director General and Chief Executive Officer Giovanni Bisignani predicted that airlines could be operating commercial flights with biofuel within three to five years. The issue, according to IATA, is no longer technological but commercial, as synthetic fuel blends have already been approved for commercial use.
Biofuel blends have already been used in test flights by carriers including Virgin Atlantic, Air New Zealand, Air China and Japan Airlines. However, the certification and testing of biofuels is still underway. With different feedstocks and different methods used in production, certification remains a complicated and extended process, but is required to ensure guaranteed performance for airlines.
With the price of oil surging once again and 4,000 airlines scheduled to come under the European Union’s Emissions Trading Scheme from 2012, there is a good deal of urgency to this research.
EU climate action commissioner Connie Hedegaard says aviation-related emissions are growing faster than those produced by any other industry. “Firm action is needed,” she says.