Etihad Airways operates first biofuel powered delivery flight with Boeing and Sky Energy
Etihad Airways from the United Arab Emirates scores a double play in the Green World Series: Becoming both the first airline to fly on biofuel directly from the factory and the first biofuel-flying Gulf carrier. Not yet on its fuel-efficient Dreamliners, Etihad’s new Boeing 777-300ER traveled from its Seattle birthplace to its home base at Abu Dhabi International Airport this past Wednesday.
The flight was powered by a mix of traditional fuel and plant-based biofuel created from recycled vegetable cooking oil. Used oil from the food industry qualifies as a bio-based waste stream, its resulting carbon footprint is especially trim.
“This flight marks a significant milestone in our efforts to drive commercialization of sustainable aviation fuel in Abu Dhabi, the region, and globally. Use of presently available biofuel is just part of a comprehensive strategy to ensure that we are able to use biofuel to decarbonize an entire industry sector in the long term”, said Etihad Airways’ President and CEO James Hogan in a public statement.
This national airline of the United Arab Emirates is an original founder of the Masdar Institute’s Sustainable Bioenergy Research Consortium in Abu Dhabi.
Bankrolled by $2 million of Etihad funding, this ground-breaking R&D lab is pioneering use of salt water-tolerant plants in production of alternative aviation fuel. As a member of the global Sustainable Aviation Fuel Users Group, the airline is fully committed to developing biofuel feedstocks that protect drinking water supplies; are non-competitive with food sources; and maintain optimal biodiversity.
Biofuel for this inaugural flight was provided by Netherlands-based sustainable jet fuel company SkyNRG, which commented: “We think the Middle East has great potential to give a critical boost towards making a market for sustainable jet fuel that is affordable. With this flight, Etihad Airways has taken a fantastic step, particularly in increasing awareness within the region.
“There is a lot more to come in this continent and we are determined to be there when that happens”, said Dirk Kronemeijer, SkyNRG Managing Director.
In an effort to push airlines to decrease carbon output, the EU emissions trading scheme (ETS) now requires all airlines flying to or from EU airports to purchase permits to offset annual carbon emissions.
A way to fly no cost carbon offsets
No-cost offsets are available to carriers who can demonstrate conservation measures such as use of alternative fuels and sustainable operational practices at home airports. Biofuel is considered as “carbon-neutral” because its original source plant material absorbs carbon as it grows, only releasing it during the combustion process. Under the EU ETS, use of biofuel use exempts airlines from carbon taxation.
Despite strong industry opposition, new emissions regulations will continue to be imposed on aviation. Carbon tax can act as a deterrent to environmentally unconstrained practices, and also as a mechanism to raise revenue to fund other carbon reduction programs.
Costs related to taxation schemes might simply be passed to end-users, or could incite development of an alternative fuels industry that is commercially competitive with traditional fuel.
Biofuels perform as well as fossil fuels, and they can be used without re-tooling existing aircraft systems. How to scale up production to meet anticipated demand, at a cost the market is willing to pay, is a challenge sure to drive the biofuel game into extra innings.
Above image via skyNGR Sky Energy