America is Getting Ahead of Air Transport’s Ecological Power Curve

 - June 27, 2011, 8:41 AM
Boeing ferried its new Boeing 747-8 Freighter all the way from its home in Seattle to make its international debut at the Paris Air Show, powered by a mix of plant-based biofuel and standard jet-A. (Photo: David McIntosh)

At last week’s Paris Air Show strong examples of leadership in efforts to reduce air transport’s environmental footprint came from two sources that, at least in the eyes of sometimes sanctimonious European observers, have not been seen as being at the vanguard of such moves: the U.S. and business aviation. During the administration of former President George W. Bush, the U.S. sometimes gave the impression that it held deep-seated ideological objections to the very notion that aviation should have to reduce its carbon footprint and that such initiatives were the unwelcome fixation of generally left-of-center governments in Europe. This attitude may have given rise to the impression that the U.S. industry had not committed to environmental progress.

How striking then that on the eve of this year’s Paris show a veritable poster-child for perceived Western excess–a Gulfstream G450 private jet–should touch down at Le Bourget Airport after making the first-ever transatlantic flight powered by biofuels. Then, just over 24 hours later, Boeing’s new B747-8 Freighter arrived in Paris powered partly by biofuels, too. The fuel in question is Honeywell Green Jet Fuel–derived from the inedible camelina plant and developed and produced by UOP, a subsidiary of Honeywell.

The G450 crossed the Pond powered by a 50/50 mix of Green Jet Fuel and jet-A in one of it two engines. The 747-8 carried a mix of 15-percent biofuel and 85-percent jet-A and ran it on all four of its engines for the entire flight. Honeywell UOP now is accelerating efforts to start producing Green Jet Fuel, with FAA approval for the 50/50 mix expected in July.

UOP vice president and general manager James Rekoske told AIN that it will take four or five more years before biofuels become commercially available “on a commercial scale at parity with jet fuel.”

Honeywell estimates that–based on an average crude oil price of $100 per gallon–biofuels will cost about 10 to 15 cents more per gallon than jet-A.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Pavilion at the Paris show featured other prominent examples of American innovators in the field, most notably a cluster of companies from Washington state, which has specifically targeted biofuels as an area of expertise, and California-based Sapphire Energy, which hopes to be producing 20,000 barrels of biofuel per day by 2014.