It has now been a year since a coalition of industry organizations introduced the “Business Aviation Guide to the Use of Sustainable Alternative Jet Fuel (SAJF),” and the business aviation sector has continued to increase its commitment of the utilization of the drop-in replacement fuel. The document, highlighted at last year’s EBACE, provided an overview of emerging biofuel options and a roadmap for their development and use.
It described how in 2009, the business aviation community set goals to mitigate its impact on climate change that included achieving carbon-neutral growth by 2020, making it “the only industry to have developed internationally agreed carbon emission reduction standards.” Yet, while the use of SAJF represents the single largest potential reduction in aviation’s greenhouse gas emissions, the guide noted, “progress has been uneven over the past eight years.”
In January, the industry came together at California business aviation hub Van Nuys Airport (VNY) for "Business Jets Fuel Green: A Step Towards Sustainability," to amplify the guide’s message of the compatibility of the alternative fuels with all jet-fueled aircraft. For the first time, SAJF was available to the business aviation community on a trial basis, with World Fuel and Avfuel supplying the four FBOs on the field with more than 14,000 gallons of blended SAJF produced by California-based World Energy and Gevo respectively. The biofuel blend was in some cases, pumped directly into the FBO’s fuel farm to illustrate its absolute compatibility with the existing neat jet fuel and the FBO’s tanks and pumps, while others chose to keep it stored in the refueler and distributed on customer preference.
To further demonstrate the fuel’s acceptability, several OEMs sent aircraft to provide demonstration flights, taking on SAJF at VNY. Gulfstream, which maintains its own supply of SAJF at its Savannah, Georgia headquarters to support its demonstration fleet, dispatched a G280, which set a city–speed pair in the process. The Savannah-to-Van Nuys, California, sprint covered 2,243 nm in 4 hours and 49 minutes at an average speed of Mach 0.85. Flying through headwinds averaging 76 knots, the G280 demonstrated the high performance possible with SAJF.
“This is drop-in fuel, this is jet-A,” Charles Etter, Gulfstream’s head of environmental and regulatory affairs and technical fellow, told AIN during the cross-country mission. “It has better freeze-point qualities to it, it has more energy density to it, it’s actually a better fuel.” Likewise, Bombardier sent a Challenger 350, and Embraer a Legacy 500, for the SAJF-fueled flights, which took groups of conference attendees on an hour-long tour over an overcast Southern California. Given the more than 250 turbine-powered aircraft operations at VNY in the 24 hours after the renewable fuel was delivered for the event, the entire amount was quickly consumed.
Paradigm Shift Under Way
At its most basic, the use of SAJF represents a paradigm shift, according to Steve Csonka, executive director of the Commercial Aviation Alternative Fuels Initiative (CAAFI). Instead of pumping new hydrocarbons from the ground as petroleum, SAJF simply recycles the carbon that is already in the atmosphere and is extracted from plants, which use photosynthesis to utilize it as carbon dioxide.
While there has been much discussion about SAJF over the past decade, there has been seemingly little increase in volume. That is attributed to the global economic meltdown, which struck in 2008, a crucial juncture for the nascent biofuel industry. Companies became starved for development capital, thus handicapping the commercialization of large-scale production.
“The financial markets completely seized up, and they were closed for the better part of half a decade before the banks were able to do debt financing again,” said Bryan Sherbacow, COO of commercial biofuels producer World Energy. “It’s now just starting to loosen up again.”
With that funding becoming more available, fuel producers are looking to expand their production capabilities. Texas-based Gevo, which currently produces SAJF on a per-batch, on-request basis, expects to increase its output from 100,000 gallons of alternative fuel to 12 to 15 million gallons in the 2022 time frame. Likewise, California-based World Energy, the only commercial producer of SAJF in North America, has a renewable fuel capacity of 40 million gallons a year (currently 15 percent of which consists of SAJF) and is also planning to boost its production to 350 million gallons over the next two years.
The worldwide consumption of jet fuel, accounting for all its uses, is approximately 87 billion gallons a year, according to Steve Dryzmalla, World Fuel Services’ senior vice president for business aviation bulk fuel. “In the last couple of years, we’ve been at an order of magnitude of 4 to 5 million gallons total [SAJF] production, so a very small amount of total worldwide use.”
Of that current amount, most is purchased by the airlines. Indeed, anyone flying commercially out of Los Angeles International Airport is flying on a jet burning some component of SAJF, courtesy of United Airlines. Due to an offtake agreement, the airline has poured approximately three million gallons of SAJF a year into the airport’s general fuel supply for the past several years.
In March, Gulfstream announced its first commercial sale of SAJF to a Gulfstream operator. The customer, a U.S.-based multinational corporation, purchased 20,000 pounds of the renewable fuel from the OEM’s Long Beach, California facility for its Gulfstream G550. World Energy, which has a refinery approximately 10 miles from Long Beach Airport, produces the SAJF Gulfstream uses.
The business aviation groups hope that, with future production increases, SAJF will soon be readily available for their constituents, at least at some key airports. There is an “underlying need to improve fuel access and infrastructure,” David Coleal, Bombardier Business Aircraft president and chair of GAMA’s environment committee, told AIN, adding that will ultimately be triggered by supply and demand. “The bottom line remains that as demand increases, we will need more fuel at more airports, and this will require more production.”
Last November, the European Commission (EC) presented its strategic, long-term vision for a prosperous, modern, competitive, and climate-neutral economy by 2050, and from an aviation perspective, the EU has invested approximately €5 billion over the last decade to support those commitments including programs such as flexJET, a four-year project funded by the EC through the Horizon 2020 research initiative. Coordinated by the UK’s University of Birmingham, 13 partners from five countries are assisting in the long-term goal of bringing biofuels from sustainable raw materials to market. FlexJET’s goal is to diversify the feedstock available beyond vegetable oils and fats to biocrude oil derived from a wide range of organic waste, diverting it from landfill or incineration. “The main aim of this project is to deliver more than 1,000 tons of aviation fuel from sustainable biogenic waste feedstocks,” said Dr. Miloud Ouadi, from the University of Birmingham. “This will mark the first pre-commercial plant for subsequent future deployment.”
According to a recent study by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, sustainable, plant-based jet biofuels could provide a competitive alternative to conventional jet fuels if currently planned development and scale-up initiatives continue to progress. The study, “Techno-economic analysis and life-cycle greenhouse gas mitigation cost of five routes to bio-jet fuel blendstocks,” published in the journal Energy & Environmental Science, provided evidence that optimizing the biofuel production pipeline is well worth the effort.
While the cost of biofuels is currently around $16 a gallon, compared to $2.50 for conventional jet fuel, the researchers demonstrated that all five current SAJF production pathways could create fuel products at that target price, providing the leftover biomaterial from the process could be developed into and sold as a profitable byproduct.
“Our hope is that early in the research stages, we can at least simulate what we think it would look like if you develop these fuel production routes to the point of maturity,” said Corinne Scown, lead author and researcher. “Thankfully the answer is they can be viable, and we’ve identified improvements that need to happen all along the conversion process to make that happen.”
That comes as welcome news to Aerion, developer of the AS2, which when completed would be the world’s first supersonic business jet. It plans to certify the $120 million aircraft to be able run on pure biofuel, as well as the currently mandated jet-A blends that are seeing increasing use in commercial and business aviation.
According to the Business Aviation Guide to the Use of Sustainable Alternative Jet Fuel (SAJF), the blend limits are to ensure the appropriate level of compatibility with the aircraft fueling systems, mainly due to ensuring a minimum level of aromatics, which are necessary to maintain seals in the systems.
“From a technical standpoint, we don’t see any obstacles at this time,” said Gene Holloway, the airframer’s vice president for environmental responsibility. “The modern materials used in today’s seals do not require aromatics to promote proper sealing. Our engine, the GE Affinity, incorporates seals that allow for 100 percent biofuels.”
As it continues its support of the use of sustainable aviation fuels within the business aviation sector, the International Business Aviation Council (IBAC) participated in the first ICAO Stocktaking Seminar toward the 2050 Vision for Sustainable Aviation Fuels, which took place from April 30 to May 1 in Montreal. The event provided a forum for the exchange of aviation fuel information and served as the first step towards the establishment of a quantified 2050 ICAO Vision for Sustainable Aviation Fuel.
IBAC represented the business aviation community at the event which featured policy and decision makers from the member states, technical experts from the fuel supply chain, airlines, airports, fuel producers, aircraft manufacturers, and others.
“The goal is to inspire states, industry, and other stakeholders to substitute a significant proportion of conventional aviation fuels with sustainable fuels by 2050,” said IBAC director general Kurt Edwards. “The business aviation community is making progress, but more work needs to be done to increase availability and expand awareness that these drop-in fuels are ready to use today.”
“Business aviation has a role to play in the adoption and the logistics associated with SAJF and making it available in the marketplace,” noted Keith Sawyer, Avfuel’s manager of alternative fuels. “Our call to action has to engage the flight departments so that over time they become aware that the sustainable alternative jet fuel can become a component of their sustainability efforts as a company.”