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GOL Airlines Makes First Commercial Flight Fueled by Sugarcane-Derived Biofuel

Brazilian airline GOL has become the first in the aviation industry to fly a commercial flight with farnesane, a recently approved aviation biofuel. On July 31, the GOL 7725 flight made the first international connection from Orlando, Florida to Sao Paulo, Brazil.

The Brazilian airline partnered with Amyris, a biotechnology company dedicated to producing renewable alternatives to petroleum-based fuels, to take the first step in developing a more sustainable aviation industry. Earlier in the month, GOL committed to flying its Boeing 737 fleet with a 10 percent blend of farnesane, a sugarcane-derived biofuel.

The newly approved renewable jet fuel was developed in collaboration between Amyris and Total, one of the world’s leading energy companies, following their joint venture agreement to commercialize renewable fuels last year.

"We at Amyris are thrilled that GOL will be using our renewable jet fuel blend for their flight route from the United States to Brazil, the first of what we expect to be many routes with the world's leading airlines. With our partner Total, Amyris is working to support the performance goals set by the aviation industry by bringing to market a drop-in, low-carbon jet fuel solution," said John Melo, president & CEO at Amyris.

Farnesane was approved for use in June this year, meeting the rigorous performance requirements set for the Jet A/A-1 fuel used in the global commercial aviation industry. On June 15, ASTM revised its International Standards to include the renewable Synthesized Iso-Paraffinic (SIP) farnesane for use as a fuel component in airlines internationally.

Amyris claims that when produced sustainably, farnesane can reduce greenhouse gas emissions by up to 80 percent compared to traditional petroleum fuel (based on life-cycle analysis). In addition to reducing the carbon intensity of commercial flights, the company claims the biofuel blend can also reduce particulate matter emissions by 3 percent — addressing the growing problem of air pollution near airports and metropolitan areas. The new fuel is drop-in, and can be directly blended with petroleum fuels without the need for engineering amendments to aircraft or engine infrastructure.

Amyris is now starting to quantitatively measure the positive GHG reduction and air-quality impact with every flight using the biofuel. The company claims that its farnesane, made from Brazilian sugarcane, can be up to 30 percent more efficient than other biofuels in terms of land use, with the potential for this efficiency to rise to 70 per cent when new technologies (such as sugar from cellulosic feedstocks) become commercially available, reported Biodiesel Magazine.

This is another in a series of much-needed steps by the global aviation industry if they are to attain the low-carbon goals they set as part of their overall sustainability commitment. The global aviation industry has set itself tough goals to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions — pledging neutral carbon growth by 2020 and a 50 percent reduction in its emissions by 2050, relative to 2005. Last year the USDA extended its agreement with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), Boeing and other partners, by five years, to develop a viable biofuel for the aviation industry.

The development of farnesane by the Amyris-Total venture, and its first commercial use by GOL Airlines, is just one of the many emerging developments in the implementation of alternative jet fuels into the aviation industry. Just last week, Boeing, South African Airways (SAA) and SkyNRG announced a collaboration to develop a sustainable aviation fuel from a new type of tobacco plant. And in April, British Airways and Solena Fuels' GreenSky London project announced it is set to build the world's first facility to convert landfill waste into jet fuel at the Thames Enterprise Park in Essex. The airline has committed to purchase all 50,000 tons per annum of the jet fuel produced at the facility at market competitive rates for the next 11 years.


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