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New Initiatives, Innovations to Give Aviation Biofuels a Big Push

Air transport represents 2 percent to 3 percent of global man-made CO2 emissions. Sustainable aviation biofuel has been identified as one of the most promising ways to meet the ambitious targets of stabilizing emissions generated by global air transport as soon as 2020. A new initiative in France and a breakthrough discovery in Germany could just be the push the sustainable fuel source needs.

To promote the emergence of sustainable aviation biofuel industries, Air France in partnership with the French Ministry for Ecological and Inclusive Transition, Ministry of Transport, Ministry of Economy and Finance, as well as Airbus, Safran, Suez and Total presented an Engagement for Green Growth (ECV) at the recent World Efficiency Fair.

Current conditions present a barrier to the development of French aviation biofuel industries, including economic viability and the ability to secure a sustainable biomass supply. The goal of the ECV is to support and rapidly create the conditions necessary for implementing these industries in France, as well as to accelerate the adoption of circular economy principles.

The creation of the ECV comes one year after the ICAO’s adoption of a historic agreement concerning a global market mechanism for reducing air transport CO2 emissions. It confirms Air France’s commitment to adopt further ecological initiatives in support of green growth.

“Every day, Air France is committed to building the travel experience of the future. We want the experience to be enjoyable, innovative and responsible. I am very pleased to announce the signature of this ECV which confirms our commitment to reducing the environmental footprint of our activities and our active contribution to the air transport industry of the future,” stated Jean-Marc Janaillac, Chairman and CEO of Air France-KLM and Chairman of the Air France Board of Directors.

Meanwhile, scientists at the University of Tübingen’s Center of Applied Geosciences in Germany have developed a bioprocess to transform a dairy byproduct into a bio-oil that can be used to fuel airplanes.

Acid whey, the wastewater produced during the production of Greek yogurt, is the key to the process. Scientists placed the wastewater in a reactor microbiome, which allowed other types of bacteria to enter into the contained environment and grow. The bacteria were selected for specific purposes, such as the conversion of sugars into an intermediate acid and the elongation of carbon into products with six to nine carbons in a row. The resulting products can be fed back to farm animals as an antimicrobial to prevent disease, or further processed and refined into biofuel — all without the use of additional chemicals.

“We are making a bio-oil that the bacteria can excrete,” said Lars Angenent, Humboldt Professor for Environmental Biotechnology at the University of Tübingen. “The innovation of the research is that the process does not need any other carbon-rich chemicals and only needs the wastewater itself. In the past, chain elongation needed external, expensive chemicals.”

The discovery holds promise for accelerating sustainable aviation biofuel — without the risk of deforestation — as well as catalyzing the circular economy. “Only a completely circular economy can be sustainable with all energy coming from renewable sources, while carbon for chemicals is coming from waste CO2 and other carbon-rich wastes such as acid whey,” Angenent added.

The process is not yet ready to be commercialized, but researchers will soon begin exploring the possibility of applying the process to other types of wastewater.


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