First Biofuel-Powered Long Haul Flight Takes Off

For many people, a small silver lining of the pandemic has been a reduction in emissions caused by the massive fall in travelling, whether by motor vehicle or by air.

However, in the longer run air travel is bound to pick up again as vaccines are rolled out, with countries enjoying high levels of immunity and low cases of Covid seeking to maintain plenty of air contact – such as the travel corridor between Australia and New Zealand.

For that reason, concerns about the environmental impact of mass air travel cannot be forgotten, as this will gradually become an issue again. Part of the answer may be supplied through the advent of biofuel in jet engines.

This is no longer a fantasy or hopeful wish, for the world’s first biofuel-powered long-haul flight has now taken place to prove it is possible. An Air France-KLM flight from Paris to Montreal took off this week using a mix of petroleum-based jet fuel and a synthetic fuel Total had made from cooking oils.

Air France-KLM has previously flown biofuel-powered domestic flights, but the latest development has shown it is possible to manage a long-distance journey using such fuels.

Total has said this fuel could, if adopted across the airline industry, greatly reduce carbon emissions from aviation. Chief executive officer for the oil firm Patrick Pouyanne said in a statement: “The development of biofuels is part of Total’s broad-energy strategy for decarbonising the transportation industry.”

He added that through “directly reducing the carbon intensity of the energy products” used by airlines, the firm is “actively working with them to achieve our ambition to get to net zero by 2050, together with society”.

Biofuel made up 16 per cent of the mix in the jet’s fuel, which Total estimated would lead to a reduction of 20 per cent in the emissions from the engine. A key challenge now will be to see if this can work on the very longest haul journeys, such as when direct flights from London Heathrow to Perth in Western Australia can resume.

The development of biofuel as a proven technology that can power long-haul flight may be particularly timely. With many countries setting increasingly ambitious targets for reducing carbon emissions, more areas will come under attention and just as the shift to electric vehicles is reducing carbon emissions from road transport, so the same may be achieved in the air.

Indeed, while the pandemic has led to a temporary drop in emissions and many airlines being driven close to bankruptcy, it is also possible the coming years will see a rebound as pent-up demand for travel is realised.

For that reason, both energy firms and the airlines themselves have been seeking ways to decarbonise the sector, in order for it to remain both viable against ever more stringent emissions rules and socially acceptable in an increasingly environmentally-conscious world.

This should lead to even more biofuels plants being established in the UK and elsewhere, a process that is already taking place now.

Earlier this week, the Andover Advertiser reported on an application by Green Biofuels Ltd to establish a new headquarters in the area, moving its base from London to a site next to an old grain silo in the village of Nether Wallop in Hampshire.

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