Jet Biofuel: What You Should Know and Expect

Why is jet biofuel such a hot topic? With between 15,000 and 18,000 business jets in the world, and more than 11,000 of those based in the U.S., it’s estimated that the global fleet of business jets burn between 60 and 70 billion gallons of fuel each year.

The reality is that business aviation has a big carbon footprint, and its shoes are growing. According to the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, carbon dioxide emissions from the aviation industry grew by 42% between 1990 and 2005. And the expectation is that emissions will grow 50% to 70% by 2025, and 300% by 2050.

A potential solution exists in the widespread manufacture and adoption of “drop-in” biofuels — derived from renewable feedstock such as algae, plant biomass, and woodchips — that power existing engines in place of oil. According to biofuel companies, the new fuels could reduce carbon emissions by as much as 80%.

Steps toward reality

Biofuel isn’t just an idealistic vision for the future — it’s fast becoming a reality. In July 2011, airlines were given approval to commercially operate aircraft using a 50/50 blend of petroleum-based jet fuel and biofuel. That same summer, a Gulfstream G450 business jet made the first transatlantic flight from New York to Paris powered by a biofuel blend, saving around 5.5 metric tons of net carbon dioxide and burning approximately 20 gallons less fuel.

More recently, the National Research Council of Canada flew a Dassault Falcon 20 business jet powered completely by unblended biofuel. Analysis of flight information revealed a 50% reduction in aerosol emissions and 49% decrease in black carbon emissions, and the engines burned 1.5% less fuel when running on pure biofuel.

Jet biofuel is also gaining traction in both the public and private sectors. In April, the Obama administration renewed its support for the development of biofuels for the aviation industry by signing a pact to extend the Farm to Fly program.

Farm to Fly, which has the support of large organizations such as the National Business Aviation Association (NBAA) and the General Aviation Manufacturers Association (GAMA), works with the private sector and rural communities to create fossil fuel alternatives for aviation. The program aims to support the annual production of 1 billion gallons of aviation biofuels by 2018.

In the private sector, Richard Branson’s Carbon War Room non-profit organization, Renewable Jet Fuels, is working to make jet biofuel a win-win solution for investors and buyers, and bring renewable fuel sources to the mass market.

What the future holds

Although support is growing, there is still a long way to go before biofuel is commonplace. The biofuel industry needs to find a way to increase the availability of source material without disrupting food supply production or the oil and gas market. And they need to find investors willing to take on the risk of an emerging industry.

Despite these hurdles, there is a feeling of optimism that renewable jet biofuel will become a commercially viable solution, with the aviation industry leading the way to cleaner and more sustainable business practices.

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