Boeing goes green with new aviation fuel

Boeing says it has identified a new type of biofuel that could slash the aviation industry’s carbon emissions.

The US planemaker believes that “green diesel”, a renewable fuel used in ground transportation, could provide the best source of sustainable aviation biofuel. Made from oil and fats, green diesel emits 50% less carbon emissions than traditional fossil fuels over its lifecycle, and according to Boeing’s research, it is chemically similar to today’s aviation biofuel.

Green diesel has similar chemical properties to other aviation biofuels, according to Boeing
Green diesel has similar chemical properties to other aviation biofuels, according to Boeing

The company said it is now working with the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and other stakeholders to gain approval to test green diesel in aircraft engines. It would be mixed with traditional jet fuel.

“Green diesel approval would be a major breakthrough in the availability of competitively priced, sustainable aviation fuel,” said Dr James Kinder, a technical fellow in Boeing’s propulsion systems division. “We are collaborating with our industry partners and the aviation community to move this innovative solution forward and reduce the industry’s reliance on fossil fuel.”

One of the challenges facing the development of biofuel is that it is expensive to produce and not commercially viable. But according to Boeing, significant green diesel production capacity already exists in the US, Europe and Singapore, which could supply as much as 1% – about 600 million gallons (2.27 billion litres) – of global jet fuel demand.

The wholesale cost of US$3 per gallon with US government incentives is also relatively competitive with petroleum-based jet fuel. Boeing will now compile a research report with a view to getting approval to test the fuel.

Green diesel becomes the latest in a series of potential new aviation biofuels to be tested by the industry. Since 2008, both Airbus and Boeing, along with their airline and technical partners, have conducted flights tests using fuels derived from sources ranging from cooking oil and animal fats to algae and plant matter. Up until now however, no single biofuel has been identified as the solution to the industry’s global fuel requirements.

The global aviation industry has committed to reducing its carbon emissions by 50% by 2050, compared to 2005, and biofuel is expected to play a major role in this initiative.

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