Cleaner power: In future, Cathay Pacific planes could well be powered by biofuel. - Photo from Cathay Pacific
This Asian airline is the first to invest in biofuel to power their planes.
THE aviation industry is arguably one of the sectors with a significant carbon footprint. According to the Air Transport Action Group (ATAG), worldwide flights produced 705 million tonnes of carbon dioxide (CO2) last year. Which means the global aviation industry produces 2% of all human-induced CO2 emissions.
According to Atag, alternative fuels like sustainable biofuels have been identified as excellent substitutes to reduce the carbon footprint of aviation fuel by up to 80%.
“If commercial aviation were to get 6% of its fuel supply from biofuel by 2020, this would reduce its overall carbon footprint by 5%,” notes Atag.
Cathay Pacific Airways announced last week that it has become the first airline investor in Fulcrum BioEnergy, Inc, a US-based sustainable biofuel developer. This is part of the airline’s biofuel strategy to help it achieve a target of carbon-neutral growth from 2020.
The airline has made a strategic equity investment in Fulcrum, a world pioneer in the development and commercialisation of converting municipal solid waste into sustainable aviation fuel or “biojet fuel”. Cathay Pacific has an option for further investment.
“We are well aware of the impact the aviation industry has on the environment, and have been doing a great deal to minimise our own impact. These fuels are an important component of our sustainable development strategy,” says Cathay Pacific chief executive Ivan Chu.
Cathay Pacific has also negotiated a long-term supply agreement with Fulcrum for an initial 375 million US gallons (1.263 million tons) of sustainable aviation fuel over 10 years (representing, on an annual basis, approximately 2% of the airline’s current fuel consumption) that will meet all the airline’s technical specifications.
Fulcrum plans to build large-scale waste-to-renewable jet fuel plants at multiple locations, including locations strategic to the Cathay Pacific network, primarily in North America. The company intends to commence construction of its first commercial plant later this year.
“Fulcrum will have the municipal solid waste feedstock pre-sorted to remove any recyclables prior to being processed into fuels. The company has proved that its technology is viable and has supply commitments in place for feedstock needed for the fuel production. These supply commitments will cover both near-term and future developments,” notes Cathay Pacific Biofuel manager Jeff Ovens.
Fulcrum president and CEO Jim Macias is happy that Cathay shares in their vision to bring a whole new source of sustainable fuel to the airline industry.
“This is a new fuel that has exactly the same molecules as fossil fuel but is cleaner, lower in carbon, renewable and lower in cost than traditional fossil fuels,” says Macias.
“Cathay Pacific is really stepping up to help accelerate deliveries of this fuel to the market. This relationship adds to Fulcrum’s existing feedstock, technology and fuel off-take partners that enhance Fulcrum’s low-cost business model for the production and sale of large volumes of low-carbon jet fuel,” he adds.
According to Macias, jet fuel produced by Fulcrum’s waste-to-fuels process will reduce lifecycle carbon emissions – when used in aircraft or road transport – by more than 80% compared to traditional fuels derived from crude oil and other fossil sources.
This process also reduces the amount of municipal solid waste going into landfill sites and the methane gas emissions that result from this. If not captured, methane gas is 21 times more potent than carbon dioxide as a global warming contributor.