Lufthansa poised for biofuel launch

Sensemaking / Lufthansa poised for biofuel launch

10 May 2011

Lufthansa awaits the green light for an extended biofuel pilot project

Keen-to-be-greener airlines really do want biofuel to fly. Lufthansa was set to start using it from April, for a six month trial period, in a 50/50 mix with kerosene on its Hamburg to Frankfurt run. The company was keen to chalk this up as a first for a scheduled passenger service, after a spate of successful in-flight tests. These tests were carried out over the last two years with various biofuel blends by half a dozen operators around the world, along with the US military.

Lufthansa had anticipated approval by now from ASTM International, the regulatory standards body. But it’s having to hold its horses, apparently because engine makers like Boeing want more test data to make sure their warranties won’t be compromised in any way.

As a result, prospective investors in aviation biofuels are holding back too. But investment is needed to ramp up the sustainable production of biofuels to anything like commercial scale. Not to mention the logistical challenge of making biofuel blends available on tap at airports around the world. There’s also the cost question to contend with. Tom Enders of Airbus reportedly estimates that biofuels are currently 25 times more expensive than aviation kerosene. As soon as ASTM gives the nod to what’s technically known as hydrotreated renewable jet (HRJ) fuel, Lufthansa can start gathering experience. It will be using supplies from Finnish company Neste Oil, derived from vegetable oil, in an Airbus A321 plane, and closely monitoring the effects in terms of performance, pollution, soot, maintenance and so on. The six-month project, at an estimated cost of €6.6 million, is predicted to save 1,500 tonnes of CO2 emissions.

Roger East

Image credit: Lufthansa

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