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Dec 152009

From Green Right Now Reports

Biofuels for jet planes aren’t quite ready for take off. Synthetic fuels and biofuels for use in jet engines are still being refined and scaled up.

Japan Airlines test flight of Camelina jet fuel (Photo: AltAir Fuels.)

Japan Airlines test flight of Camelina jet fuel (Photo: AltAir Fuels.)

But production capacity is growing and today the largest American airline trade group announced that 15 airlines have reached agreements with two alternative jet fuel producers.

The airlines signed memorandums of understanding, essentially saying that as these greener fuels become available, they stand ready to buy them.

“Today’s announcement reinforces the proactive steps that airlines are taking to stimulate competition in the aviation fuel supply chain, contribute to the creation of green jobs, and promote energy security through economically viable alternatives that also demonstrate environmental benefits,” said Glenn Tilton, chairman of the Air Transport Association of America and also the chairman of the UAL Corp., and and president of United Airlines.

“Our intention as an airline industry is to continue to do our part by supporting the use of alternative fuels. We urge the U.S. government and the investment community also to do their part to further support this critical energy opportunity,” Tilton said.

The memorandums of understanding, or MOUs as those in the industry call them, indicate the airlines intend to buy jet and diesel fuel made from camelina oils or similar “feedstock from AltAir Fuels in Anacortes, Wash., and alsosynthetic jet fule made from coal or petroleum coke from Rentech in Adams County, Miss. The latter is considered green because the fuel can be combined with a biomass feedstock and the emissions can be sequestered, according to an ATA release.

The non-binding agreements plan for the potential purchase of 75 million gallons per year of bio-jet fuel and diesel fuel from AltAir Fuels and 250 million gallons per year of synthetic jet fuel derived principally from coal or petroleum coke from RenTech.

That amount of fuel translates to merely 1.5 percent of the fuel “uplifted” by American planes every day in the U.S., according to the ATA.

Still, it’s not like there’s a lot more green jet fuel available, and these initial batches could still be four years away.

The agreement is a “stepping stone,” said Elizabeth Merida, spokeswoman for the ATA. “The next step would be for the carriers involved to negotiate a specific agreement to purchase fuel from these providers.”

Tied to oil prices and facing a future in which carbon emissions must be inventoried and explained, if not offset, commercial airlines have multiple  reasons to pursue green alternatives.

Ultimately a move to new generation fuels is expected to be good for business, Merida said. “These days our environmental efforts and fuel conservation efforts go hand in hand for us. The more choices we have the better.”

The participating airlines are from the United States, Canada, Germany and Mexico.

Air Canada, American Airlines, Atlas Air, Delta Air Lines, FedEx Express, JetBlue Airways, Lufthansa German Airlines, Mexicana Airlines, Polar Air Cargo, United Airlines, UPS Airlines and US Airways have signed MOUs with both producers, according to the ATA.

In addition, Seattle-based Alaska Airlines and Honolulu-based Hawaiian Airlines signed the MOU with AltAir Fuels, and Orlando-based AirTran Airways signed the MOU with Rentech.

AltAir Fuels Founder and CEO Tom Todaro said, called the agreements the start of a “new era of more sustainable aviation.”

(For more about camelina-based biofuels, see the AltAir website, which claims burning camelina biofuel reduces carbon emissions by 80 percent compared with regular, oil-derived jet fuel.)