Monday, March 3, 2008
Eco Watch -- Biofuels test, Green Skies Recycling
The London-Amsterdam flight with bio-fuels was successful in proving that the 747 aircraft could fly at 30,000 feet without the fuel freezing, putting to rest one of the major doubts about the concept. Virgin Chair Richard Branson even drank the oil derived from coconuts and Brazilian babassu nuts, suppressed a grimace, and said it was more appropriate for the engine.
"The partnership between Virgin Atlantic, Boeing, GE and Imperium Renewables has advanced our understanding of biofuels for aviation applications," said GE Aviation Manager of Advanced Combustion Engineering Dr. Tim Held. "Prior to this historic flight, the engine ground testing conducted by GE and CFM International required no hardware modifications to the engine, and the fuels performed as expected."
The test was conducted with Boeing and GE Aviation and was the first commercial jet to fly on biofuel. The Virgin Atlantic 747-400 – registration GV-WOW, operating as Flt. VS811P – flew using a biofuel blend composed of babassu oil and coconut oil provided by Seattle-based Imperium Renewables. These oils are economically and socially sustainable and can be found in everyday cosmetic products including lip balm and shaving cream. In addition, the babassu nuts and coconuts were harvested from existing, mature plantations. Babassu oil comes from the nuts of the babassu tree, which is native to Brazil. In addition to its cosmetic uses, its leaves are used to make roofs and paper, which in turn is used to create folders, bags and soap boxes. Coconut oil is used for a variety of applications including oil for biodiesel used in ground transportation. Most coconut plantations are mature and don't contribute to deforestation, while coconut farming is also highly carbon- neutral.
Imperium developed a process that produces fuel that won’t freeze at minus 47 degrees, aviation’s toughest standard, according to Wall Street Journal’s Scott McCartney, who wrote about the tests in a recent Middle Seat column. He quoted GE’s Held as saying it was a major advance just in the last 18 months. He also quoted other experts as saying that bio fuel could be possible within five years, although that begs the question about the development of a distribution system and manufacturing plants, not to mention regulatory approval.
The fuel was mixed with traditional kerosene-based jet fuel. McCartney reported that GE tested two mixtures, a 20/80 percent mixture of natural oils and kerosene and a 40/60 percent mixture of the same products. Neither had any impact on performance, said Held.
In preparation for last week’s flight, Boeing, GE Aviation and Imperium Renewables conducted extensive laboratory and static-engine testing to evaluate the energy and performance properties of the biofuel blend. The Virgin Atlantic flight is the first step in a broader industry-wide technology initiative to commercialize alternative fuel sources for aviation.
The demonstration flight, piloted by Captain Geoff Andreasen, Virgin Atlantic's Chief Boeing pilot, took off from London Heathrow at 11.30 am and arrive in Amsterdam at 13.30 local time. During the flight, technical advisors on board took readings and recorded flight data for later analysis by the collective team and use for research and development of next-generation biofuels that can help to further reduce carbon emissions.
Boeing will use findings from this flight as a baseline for conducting another biofuel flight later this year with Air New Zealand using an algae-based fuel. Some say this resource holds the most promise since such “pond scum” is produced by sewage treatment plants which would not have the environmental impact as clearing land or produce a conflict between using such crops for fuel or food. Related Story
That controversy was recently highlighted by Branson, himself, at a recent UN conference. He questioned the impact of bio-fuel production, saying that growing crops would mean clearing too much land. He joined New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and others in criticizing bio fuels. Bloomberg said that a pitched battle between crops for food versus fuel would result in higher food prices and starving millions. Higher food prices are already happening owing to bio fuel production coupled with higher fuel prices in general. BBC reported that at the same meeting – a UN Assembly debate on Climate Change – Branson regrets investing in ethanol for financial and environmental reasons. In addition, NBC Nightly News reported that environmental recovery from the production of such sustainable fuels as well as clearing of land would take between 17 and 319 years depending on the source of the fuel. Related Story
While the bio-fuel flight demonstration highlights the technical feasibility of using biofuels in a commercial jetliner and is a significant step toward a long-term vision of fully sustainable, low-carbon-lifecycle fuel solutions for the aviation industry, McCartney also wrote about the realities of using such crops. He quoted industry experts as saying while bio-fuel may not burn any cleaner than kerosene, they are more environmentally friendly to produce, reducing environmental damage by 20 percent.
“Plants and trees producing the oils remove carbon from the atmosphere, for example, and don't come with all the drilling, refining and even shipping costs of crude oil,” wrote McCartney. “The future for viable biofuels won't likely be coconuts and babassu nuts, however, since oil from those plants, which are both used in cosmetics…can't be produced in sufficient quantity to power the world's airlines.”
Green Skies Urges Airlines to Resume Recycling of In-flight Products
U.S passenger airlines and the airports they serve should adopt the goal of recycling 200 million cans and plastic bottles from in-flight trash, or 25 percent of the total, within five years, said Green Skies, an Orlando-based aviation consulting firm. An analysis by the company shows that in 2008 alone there will be more than 7,000 tons of onboard aluminum and plastic used in flight for passenger service that can be recycled. Airline used to recycle such products as well as newspapers and magazines in the 1980s and 1990s.
"U.S. airlines, and their airport partners, should be examining all climate change issues, including the waste generated on board by 700 million passengers last year," said Green Skies CEO Michael Miller. Domestically, U.S. carriers are forecast to carry 800 million passengers by 2013, generating 8,500 tons of aluminum can and plastic bottle waste annually.
Green Skies is advocating a modest 25 percent recycling goal for in-flight waste by 2013; a 50 percent goal by 2015 and a 100 percent goal by 2018. During the 2008-2013 period, U.S. carriers alone will use more than 2.7 billion aluminum cans on board domestic flights, in addition to 5,400 tons of plastic cups and bottles. Most of the waste will be sent to landfills. When adding the 50 million inbound international passengers who land in the U.S. each year, the savings would be even greater.
"Throughout North America, there is a need to embrace environmental responsibility more urgently than is being done today. The recycling of drink containers and bottles served to passengers in the air is a no-brainer," said Miller. "But the airlines can't begin this until all of their airport partners have put recycling processes in place themselves. While many airports have in-terminal recycling, many do not." Airlines and airports can save money by diverting waste from landfills and avoiding landfill fees for the items recycled.