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One of the most exciting developments for aviation is the opportunity to make use of sustainable resources to produce a bio fuel to blend or replace the standard kerosene, or Jet-A fuel that is currently being used. Global policy initiatives insist that the industry takes a lead
where other transport sectors have failed to discover clear economic reason for doing so. The Aviation industries global operations platform provides for establishing a complete, least cost, agriculture to industry program of activities, that integrates and addresses many of the seemingly irreconcilable
 conflicts of interest that have arisen when discussing the promotion of liquid bio fuels and other alternative energy solutions in the tropics and sub tropical regions.





           Climate Change:


The European Union target of limiting the increase in global mean temperature to 2°C above pre-industrial levels within this century implies two main challenges: a substantial and continuous reduction of global greenhouse gas emissions (by about 70 to 80% or more of present emissions by the middle of this century) and a convincing foreign policy that strives for a maximum per capita emission of about 2 tonnes of CO2-eq by 2050.


There is no question that atmospheric greenhouse gases (GHG) have risen considerably since the dawn of the Industrial Revolution, but there remains considerable debate as to what effects, if any, these gases will exert on earth's climate and biosphere.  In spite of this uncertainty, many individuals and corporations are pressing forward to identify, calculate, and report their GHG emissions.  For them, the monitoring and reporting of GHG emissions is a critical aspect of doing business, the significance of which will likely only increase as International, national down to local governments move closer toward enacting legislation designed to reduce the emissions of such gasses into the atmosphere.


We have very little time left to avoid breaching the EU climate change commitment not to exceed a CO2 rise in global mean surface temperature above the pre-industrial level (EC, 2007a). The directive to include aviation in EU ETS (2008/9) has been welcomed yet benefits will be largely conditional on the proposed baseline and ways in which the wider EU ETS develops, particularly the level of the cap. To stand a modest chance of not exceeding the +CO2 threshold, the EU has a window of only 10 years or so in which to bring substantial year-on-year reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. Remaining within this + CO2 threshold requires a maximum global atmospheric CO2 concentration of 450ppmv CO2, and preferably 400ppmv CO2.


Although there are several natural factors that can change the climate, the assessment of the UN’s climate panel (IPCC) is that it is ”very likely” that the emission of greenhouse gases caused by human activities is largely responsible for global warming since the middle of the 20th century. ”Very likely” means in this context that the scientists think that it has been proven with more than 90 per cent certainty.

In the computer models that are used as tools to simulate the earth’s climate and to assess the extent of coming changes, factors are included that can affect the earth’s climate in different ways. This occurs by simulating the earth’s climate over the last hundred years, partly due to natural effects, such as the changing influence of the sun and volcanic eruptions, and partly due to the inclusion of anthropogenic greenhouse gases. The scenarios that most closely match the actual historical development are the ones that factor in both natural and anthropogenic influences on the climate. They are also the ones that suggest that the anthropogenic effect is by far the greatest.


Valuable reading:

David J.C. MacKay. Sustainable Energy – without the hot air.
UIT Cambridge, 2008. ISBN 978-0-9544529-3-3. Available free online


Global warming occurs in cycles caused mainly by changes in the sun's energy output and the sun's relative position to the Earth.

Major Causes of Global Temperature Shifts:  


           Astronomical Causes

·         11 year and year cycles: Cycles of solar variability.

·         21,000-year cycle: Earth's combined tilt and elliptical orbit around the Sun.

·         41,000-year cycle: Cycle of the +/- 1.5° wobble in Earth's orbit.

·         100,000-year cycle: Variations in the shape of Earth's elliptical orbit. 

           Atmospheric Causes

·         Heat retention: Due to atmospheric gases, mostly gaseous water vapour (not droplets), also carbon dioxide, methane, and a few other miscellaneous gases - the "greenhouse effect" (The Greenhouse Effect helps to moderate temperatures -- especially night time temperatures. Without the greenhouse effect, the average temperature of the Earth would be -18 degrees C). Solar reflectivity: Due to white clouds, volcanic dust, polar ice caps

           Tectonic Causes

·         Landmass distribution: Shifting continents (continental drift) causing changes in circulatory patterns of ocean currents. It seems that whenever there is a large landmass at one of the Earth's poles, either the North Pole or South Pole, there are ice ages. Undersea ridge activity: "Sea floor spreading" (associated with continental drift) causing variations in ocean displacement.


Climate change debates range from an absolute professing that there must be every effort made to reduce anthropogenic levels of CO2 emissions to those that advocate business as usual and beyond with arguments that increasing levels of CO2 will actually stimulate numerous world wide benefits.


The notion of "geo-engineering" solutions, suggest that with present cost estimates the price of artificially removing 50 ppm of CO2 from the air would be about $20 trillion. It is suggested instead that improved agricultural and forestry practices offer a more natural way to draw down CO2, noting that reforestation of degraded land and improved agricultural practices that retain soil carbon could draw down atmospheric CO2 by as much as 50 ppm. Additional significant CO2 reduction could be achieved by using carbon-negative biofuels to replace liquid fossil fuels and phasing out emissions from natural gas-fired power plants, a combination of these approaches could bring CO2 back to 350 ppm well before the end of the century.


            Aviation's status, the need to reduce CHG emissions:  


Aviation and climate policy has received considerable attention recently, for several reasons: deepening concerns that aviation does not pay its external costs, more profound awareness that climate change requires a substantial, urgent response, and acknowledgement that, by 2050, the growth of demand for air travel could potentially consume almost all of the emissions savings achieved by other sectors of the global economy. Consequently, policy makers are under increasing pressure to develop and implement appropriate responses to mitigate the impacts of aviation on climate.


The political agenda for reducing anthropogenic levels of CO2 have established a global lead promoting policies that support developing alternative energy resources from agricultural endeavour. Liquid bio fuels from oil seed crops are supported throughout the sub tropical regions while there are policy directives that mandate the inclusion of bio fuels in Europe’s transport fuel compliment. The global aviation industry is compelled to consider bio fuel as part of its of energy efficiency activity as in the future all aircraft landing at European airports will have to be in compliance with EU regulations with regard to the use of bio fuel as part of the jet fuel. 


By 2020, 20% of all energy used in the EU has to come from ‘renewable sources’, including biomass, bio liquids and biogas. This translates into different targets for individual Member States. An ‘indicative trajectory’ is introduced, i.e. Member States have to show that they are increasing their use of ‘renewable energy’ over every two-year period. This comprises all types of energy use, though with a cap on the amount of aviation fuel, which is taken into account.


·         Throughout the briefing, the terms ‘renewable energy’ and ‘greenhouse gas savings’ are written into quotation marks to highlight the fact that some types of energy classed as ‘renewable’ by the EU is highly unsustainable and not truly renewable (such as agro fuels and agro energy from large-scale monocultures), and that assumptions made by the EU about ‘greenhouse gas savings’ are very different from scientific evidence about true greenhouse gas emissions associated with agro fuel production. 

By 2020, each Member State must ensure that 10% of total road transport fuel comes from ‘renewable energy’, defined to include bio fuels and biogas, as well as hydrogen and electricity from ‘renewable energy’. The vast majority of this is   expected to be met from bio fuels. There are no sub-targets, no interim targets, and no provisions that the 10% target will be reviewed at any time.

 A very small list of a few purely environmental ‘sustainability standards’ will apply to bio fuels and biogas for transport and to liquid bio fuels for heat and power. There are no social, not even basic human rights standards and most environmental aspects are also being ignored. There will be no genuine verification scheme. Instead, whether or not the small list of standards is complied with will be assessed on the basis of company information, or through voluntary certification schemes, or through the existence of bilateral and multilateral agreements. The European Commission will, by the end of 2009, report on whether they propose any ‘sustainability standards’ for solid biomass and biogas for heat and power. There is no obligation on them to propose any such standards.


Air New Zealand has come clean on the sustainable biofuel it plans to flight test with Boeing and Roll-Royce later this year - and it will be produced from jatropha, an inedible plant that can grow on arid land. Air NZ says jatropha meets its three "non-negotiable" criteria for a bio-fuel: it must be environmentally sustainable without competing with food sources; it must be at least as good as today's jet fuel; and it should be significantly cheaper.

blog post photo

Photo: Maxo India

A single RB211 engine on an Air NZ 747-400 will run on jatropha-based bio-jet fuel in a flight test planned for the fourth quarter of this year. The airline is sourcing the jatropha oil for the test flight from "environmentally sustainable" plantations in South Eastern Africa and India. The land used to grow the jatropha "was neither forest land not virgin grassland within the previous two decades", and the soil and climate is not suitable for food crops, says Air NZ.

The Auckland-based airline expects to use at least 1 million barrels of sustainable fuel a year by 2013 - 10% of its annual needs - and says it has offers from organisations in Asia and African willing to guarantee enough jatropha oil supply to meet that target. And it is expecting bio-jet fuel from jatropha to be 20-30% cheaper than kerosene. The airline is also investigating algae-based biofuel.

There is a lot of excitement, and hype, around jatropha, a fast-growing shrub with inedible seeds and a high oil yield - 200gal per acre compared with 55gal for soy and 110gal for canola. It can grow in infertile or exhausted soil and needs little water. There are cautions being sounded: the plant is midly toxic, requiring careful handling; the yields are still unreliable; and harvesting is labour-intensive. But a lot of work is underway to overcome these drawbacks.


Bio Jet Fuel a Sub Tropical Sustainable "drop in" contribution to solutions:


Use of bio fuel as a substitute or extender for mineral jet fuel (Jet A1 Kerosene) has rapidly moved from a relatively niche research topic to mainstream attention. 


The world’s annual consumption of jet fuel (non-military) is about 2 Billion Barrels and the International Air Transport Association has stated it wants 10% of jet fuel to come from biofuels by 2017.  


Globally we have sufficient land to biologically sequester global aviation emissions in the long term and to supply sufficient bio fuel. 


Large-scale bio fuel production undoubtedly has a legitimate contribution for solutions. However the current evidence points to environmental harm poor social conditioning with scant economic incentives. In the most optimistic scenarios bio energy could provide over twice the current global energy demand without competing with food production, forest-protection efforts and biodiversity. In the least favourable scenarios, however, bio energy could supply only a fraction of current energy use. The range hinges upon many assumptions, not least of which is the extent to which one believes that institutions, treaties and policy tools can be relied upon as a buffer against misaligned corporate and individual economic interest.


Throughout the sub tropical regions alternative energy solutions are supported by government policies. Liquid bio fuel derived from oil seed harvests has attracted considerable interest from all sectors. Many cite Jatropha Curcas Linn as the agricultural crop species that is best suited to deliver a replacement for fossil diesel and fossil kerosene (Jet A1 fuel).


Bio Jet fuels derived from Green Diesel through hydro processing technology have considerable prospect. Currently, molecular research aims to derive the molecular combination that constitutes the current hydrocarbon jet fuel. Instead of esterification, when feedstock such as vegetable oil or wood waste is made to react with hydrogen in the presence of a catalyst, green diesel is obtained.

The resultant fuel closely resembles the current aviation hydrocarbon fuel. Bio jet fuel obtained from green diesel produced using second-generation biofuels derived from wood waste.  Overall, the market size for alternate fuels in commercial aviation, is likely to grow from 1.163 million BPD in 2009 to 1.631 BPD in 2015



Jatropha Curcas Linn Centres of Excellence:


Jatropha Curcas has been promoted as the most appropriate plant species for delivering a bio fuel solution to the transport sectors of developing economic regions. Unfortunately, despite positive policy there have been scant economic drivers in place to stimulate first class agricultural activity or pronounced investments.


While the Aviation industry has been correctly reluctant to engage with the production of a bio fuel substitute or blending inclusion with its highly sensitive fuel requirements global policy initiatives have created an absolute need for the Aviation industry to comply with moves to mitigate CO2 from the atmosphere and contribute to the reduction of GHG's generally by engagement with the use of bio fuel.


In order to address the issue of Bio Jet Fuel the Aviation industry must take ownership of the complete supply chain for this fuel requirement. Sustainability has been selected as the most significant parameter for the provision of a "drop in" bio fuel solution.


By establishing strategically placed Centres of Excellence for Jatropha Curcas Linn that guide and control the agriculture to industry activities for the production of a fully certifiable Bio Jet Fuel the Aviation industry will provide for a fully integrated opportunity to establish complimentary Climate Change, GHG mitigation, Sustainable use of resources, Improved land use for both food and fuel, repair and renewal of degraded land areas, improved utility for under-utilised land areas, Compliance with Fair-trade standards, and additional deliverables that have significant economic value at sufficient levels to promote a least cost delivery of Bio Jet Fuel directly into the current global Aviation networks.