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Accelerating algae aviation biofuels

Airbus, British Airways and Cranfield University in the UK are cooperating on aviation biofuels from renewable sources like microalgae.

Together with other members of the recently established Sustainable Use of Renewable Fuels (SURF) consortium, they aim to address five major considerations for the successful use of biofuels. These will include; environmental impact; processing, capacity and distribution; commercial and legislation and regulation. Specific studies will look at future sustainability modelling and environmental lifecycle assessment.

SURF is based around Cranfield’s Sea Green project and will serve as an advisory group supporting the definition, objectives and outcomes of the aviation biofuels project.

The University already has a pilot facility growing and processing algae for aviation biofuels. The eventual aim is for Sea Green to be an ocean-based facility for the sustainable production of commercial quantities of biomass for biofuels.

It will be designed to use near-shore waters to rapidly grow microalgae at a faster rate than any other initiative and capture CO2 from the atmosphere and seas at the same time.

It is envisaged that the first commercial quantities of aviation biofuels products from Sea Green will become available within three years.

Professor Feargal Brennan, Head of Cranfield University’s Department of Offshore, Process and Energy Engineering, says: “Many biofuels compete with agricultural land and fresh water which results in the price of food being pushed up. This project and consortium aim to see how algae could benefit the aviation industry.

“It will look at ways to grow and harvest naturally occurring species of algae in large volumes and to process these into fuel. Algae grows naturally in sea water and with over 70% of the surface of the earth being water, Cranfield’s Sea Green project is a logical and potentially high yield solution. Few replacement options to kerosene for fuelling commercial aircraft have been identified but jet fuel produced from algae produced in this way, could be a major break-through.”

Paul Nash, Airbus Head of new Energies, adds: “Airbus is a Catalyst for the implementation of sustainable alternative fuels and we continue to investigate all options for the production of biofuels. We see algae as one of the most promising and sustainable solutions for commercial quantities of biofuels.

“Industry initiatives like SURF demonstrate our commitment to reducing emissions. Airbus is committed to a three pronged alternative fuels strategy; alternative fuels, air traffic management and the latest aircraft technology.

SURF is made up of Airbus, British Airways, Rolls-Royce, Finnair, Gatwick Airport, IATA and Cranfield University.

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