EADS and its partners’ research focuses on sustainable plants and sources of organic substances (biomass) that do not compete with land, food or water resources, while also respecting the local flora habitat. This protects a region’s natural resources and can support local employment.
Microalgae have emerged as one of the leading sources of alternative fuels, having been grown commercially for many years for such products as food supplements and cosmetics. They reproduce rapidly, can be raised on poor quality land using non-potable water or saltwater, create more organic substance per cultivated area than other potential sources, and do not compete with food production.
As well as extensive testing, EADS Innovation Works (IW) is actively encouraging the development of viable business models to advance the use of algae biofuel into reality within the aviation industry. To this end, IW has successfully proposed an EADS business nursery programme for the development of pathways based on yeast and algae, and the creation of an R&T platform is expected in Toulouse, funded partly by the French government, to work on scaling up yeast production
Jean Botti, EADS Chief Technical Officer, explains the potential of biofuels.
“EADS wants to involve the entire value chain in developing a valid business model for biofuel production and utilisation – engaging everyone from cultivators and refiners to the designers of aircraft and propulsion systems, along with end-users such as airlines and operators,” says Odile Petillon, Head of Operations – Energy & Propulsion EADS Innovation Works.
Following this strategy, IW has partnered with a South American company on algae research, whose yield is huge compared to other plants. “What is interesting about this project is that they are trying to mimic nature,” Petillon explains. Instead of just working with the most efficient strains of microalgae, the company works with a mix of 17-20 different strains, together in a single ecosystem. They don’t all produce a high level of oil, but together they provide the right environment for growth. “It is a more organic approach,” continues Petillon, “simulating tidal cycles and combining growth through photosynthesis [sub-surface algae] and carbon material [algae and other micro-organisms in ‘deep’ water].”
Did you know…?
Algae absorb a quantity of carbon dioxide emissions three times their size. They can be harvested every six weeks and they also offer a much better yield: for example, if Belgium was planted with algae, it would fuel the entire world’s aviation traffic for a year.
Airbus' value chain strategy
New Energy Program Manager Frédéric Eychenne highlights the Airbus strategy to speed up aviation biofuel commercialization.
Airbus’s strategy is based on being the catalyst in the search for sustainable solutions leading to production of commercial quantities of alternative aviation fuels. A new industry-wide initiative to speed up aviation biofuel commercialisation in Europe has been launched by Airbus, the European Commission, leading European airlines and key European biofuel producers. This initiative, called the “European Advanced Biofuel Flightpath,” is committed to supporting and promoting the production, storage and distribution of sustainably produced drop-in biofuels for aviation use. The objective is to reach two million tonnes of production and consumption by 2020, which represents roughly four per cent of the aviation fuel used across the European Union.
Airbus’ launch of an alternative fuels roadmap has led to collaborative projects and flights with airline partners, along with the recent approval of 50 per cent blends of biomass to liquid (BTL) and hydroprocessed esters and fatty acids (HEFA) fuels on commercial flights. In one partnership effort, Lufthansa performed daily bio-fuel flights using a 50 per cent blend of jatropha-based fuel in one engine on an A321.
Airbus is also setting up value chains on each continent with Brazil’s TAM (Jatropha plant), Virgin Australian Airlines (eucalyptus), Qatar Airways (microalgae) and Romania’s Tarom and Spain’s Iberia (camelina). Additionally, Airbus partnered with China’s Tsinghua University and the China Petroleum and Chemical Corporation (Sinopec) in 2012 to explore fuel sources, develop a value chain, and produce aviation biofuel for use in the country.