Boeing is working with the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and other stakeholders to obtain approval for its planes to fly on green diesel. The company named green diesel as a “significant” new source of aviation biofuel, one with at least 50 percent less carbon dioxide emissions than fossil fuel during its lifecycle. Boeing’s researchers have found that green diesel (made from oils and fats) is chemically similar to current aviation biofuel. If green diesel is approved it could be blended with traditional aviation fuel. Green diesel can be used in any diesel engine and is chemically different than biodiesel. Green diesel production in the U.S., Europe, and Singapore could supply up to one percent, about 600 million gallons, of jet fuel demand. The wholesale cost is about $3 a gallon with U.S. government incentives.
“Boeing wants to establish new pathways for sustainable jet fuel, and this green diesel initiative is a groundbreaking step in that long journey,” said Julie Felgar, managing director of Boeing Commercial Airplanes Environmental Strategy and Integration, in a statement. “To support our customers, industry and communities, Boeing will continue to look for opportunities to reduce aviation’s environmental footprint.”
“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 Commercial Airplanes 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.”
Boeing is part of the Sustainable Aviation Fuel Users Group (SAFUG), whose goal is to develop sustainable jet fuel. Formed in 2008, SAFUG members are committed to accelerating the development and commercialization of sustainable aviation biofuel. United Airlines and Lufthansa are SAFUG members and both airlines have committed to using biofuels. In 2011, Lufthansa tested biofuels in regular flight operation, and became the first airline to do so. The airline used a 50/50 mix of regular fuel and biosynthetic kerosene made from jatropha, camelina and animal fats produced by Finnish company, Neste Oil. Last summer, United signed an agreement with Seattle based AltAir Fuels to purchase 15 million gallons of biofuel. The biofuel is produced using camelina as feedstock. United will buy the biofuel over a three-year period beginning in 2014.
The cost of fossil fuels is driving the aviation industry to explore alternative fuels. A 2008 study cited the “high cost of petroleum combined with aviation’s total dependence on petroleum-based fuel” as the largest driver for developing and adopting alternative aviation fuels. The other drivers include environmental impacts and the possibility of disruptions of petroleum supplies. By reducing dependency on fossil fuels, alternative aviation fuels can lessen the industry’s environmental impact, including reducing greenhouse gas emissions.