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Sustainable aviation fuel

Identifying new sources

Airbus encourages the development of second-generation biofuels which do not compete with food production or water use.

Traditionally, carbon based/kerosene-like fuels have proven to be the best energy source for aircraft because of intangibles such as the ability to maintain stable temperatures. Sustainable aviation fuels offer many of the same benefits, and can also be used without having to change a jetliner’s propulsion system. 

Sustainable aviation fuel are made from living things or the waste these organisms produce. Some of these fuels come from crops or land resources that compete with food production or water use. However, Airbus encourages the development of second-generation sustainable aviation fuels – known as biomass – which eliminates such competition. Source options being investigated include algae, woodchip waste, camelina, halophytes such as salicornia (plants growing in salt water), waste produce and yeast. 

For example, certain types of algae sea water combined with sun and carbon can become a “biomass” plant. These offer promising options for large scale production of a fuel that is very similar to kerosene.

Developing current sources

Airbus uses local knowledge to identify the best fuel source for each country by helping to connect farmers, refiners, governments and airlines. Farmers are encouraged to use non-arable land with the confidence that the crop will be bought by refiners. Additionally, producing sustainable aviation fuel close to where airlines need it minimises emissions created through transporting the liquid to the point of use. Programmes have already been established in Brazil, Qatar, Romania, Spain and Australia. Airbus also has partnered with China’s Tsinghua University and the China Petroleum and Chemical Corporation (Sinopec) to explore fuel sources, develop a value chain and produce a certified aviation fuel for this country – which is among the world’s fastest-growing aviation markets.

Currently, researchers in Brazil are working on a bio-jet fuel created from the jatropha plant, with 4,000 hectares being grown for production. Airbus also teamed with Virgin Australia Airlines to support the cultivating of eucalyptus in Australia, while in Spain, the company is supporting the development of 2,000 hectares of camelina for aviation fuel. Additionally, Airbus is endorsing an initiative in Qatar to transform micro-algae into a sustainable source. 

Numerous successful test flights already have been carried out using these fuels, and Airbus believes sustainable aviation fuels could provide up to one-third of all commercial aviation jet fuel by 2030 if sources can be produced in sufficient quantities.

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Did you know?

"We surveyed over 10,000 people around the world who will be passengers in 2050 to ask what they want from the aviation industry in the future.

Their message was clear – we need to help as many people as possible share in the benefits that air transport brings, but we need to achieve this while looking after the environment."

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