Airbus Launches Chinese Biofuel Study

 - September 3, 2012, 8:10 PM
Chinese carriers such as Sichuan Airlines will likely be among the first to use biofuels resulting from a new joint venture between Airbus and China’s Tsinghua University.

Airbus and China’s Tsinghua University have agreed to jointly investigate biofuel feedstocks in the country in an initiative designed to identify the best options for sustainable commercialization of alternative fuel supply for aviation. By early next year, Airbus hopes to have narrowed down the list of possible feedstocks, which will include cooking oil and algae, to the most promising alternative fuel solutions. With that decision taken, the partners intend to investigate ways to accelerate production.

Professor Zhang Xiliang, director of the Institute of Energy, Environment and Economy, Tsinghua University, said the project will “help us improve our understanding of the nature of aviation biofuels commercialization in China.” Airbus has already started to establish biofuel “value chains” in Latin America, Australia, Europe and the Middle East, so the latest project will add Asia to its prospective fuel supply network.

Last month Boeing and Chinese aerospace group Comac opened their Aviation Energy Conservation and Emissions Reduction Technology Center, whose first project involves exploring opportunities to refine waste cooking oil. Efforts to develop viable biofuels to power airliners have gathered pace since early demonstration flights with biofuel-kerosene blends took place in 2008. More recently, Boeing conducted the first intercontinental scheduled flight powered by biofuel in August 2011 (an Aeromexico 777-200ER from Mexico City to Madrid) with a 30 percent jatropha-kerosene blend. In April 2012, Boeing and ANA conducted the first transpacific biofuel flight using a Boeing 787 (Seattle to Tokyo) fueled by a 15 percent blend derived from cooking oil.

In March, Boeing, Airbus and Embraer signed a memorandum of understanding aimed at fostering ties in developing enough “drop-in” affordable biofuels to meet 4 percent of aviation’s fuel needs by 2020. Airbus concentrates its efforts in Europe, where it works with airlines in the European Commission-backed “Biofuel Flightpath” program, launched in June last year.

On August 30, China’s ICBC Leasing ordered 50 Airbus A320s, including 20 of the new re-engined A320neo. Airbus achieved another breakthrough deal in Asia last week, when Philippine Airlines ordered 34 A321s, 10 A321neos and 10 A330-300s.