Lufthansa prepares biofuels for take-off

Lufthansa will pilot the first commercial flights using renewable jet fuel from April next year after signing a landmark deal with Finnish refiners Neste Oil.

Neste’s NExBTL fuel, produced from raw materials such as vegetable oil and animal fat, will be used in aircraft flying between Frankfurt and Hamburg for a six-month trial period.

The planes will use a 50-50 blend of NExBTL fuel and conventional jet fuel in one engine, and solely conventional fuel in the other, as Lufthansa looks to examine the effect of biofuel on engine maintenance.

Lufthansa said it expects to save around 1,500 tonnes of CO2 emissions during the trial period, based on Neste’s predictions that over its entire life cycle NExBTL’s greenhouse gas emissions are between 40 and 80 per cent lower than those of conventional fuels.

“Lufthansa and Neste Oil are leading the field in moving towards greener aviation,” said Joachim Buse, Lufthansa’s vice president of aviation biofuel. “In addition to a smaller carbon footprint, renewable jet fuel will also reduce emissions of pollutants such as SOx (sulphur oxide).”

Official approval from the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) will be required before the German airline can use the fuel, but this is expected to be granted early next year.

Neste’s president and chief executive Matti Lievonen expressed confidence that the NExBTL fuel would meet industry requirements.

“We’re very proud of the fact that our NExBTL technology is capable of meeting aviation needs,” he said. “Aviation fuels are covered by very strict quality standards, and our NExBTL technology has proved that it can produce a fuel meeting these standards. Being a pioneer in this area is very positive for us, as it could open up major business opportunities in the future.”

Lufthansa is by no means the only airline investigating biofuels, as airlines across the globe scrabble to reduce emissions before flights to and from all EU destinations are incorporated into the bloc’s Emissions Trading Scheme (EU ETS) in 2012.

Targets agreed in October by industry body the International Air Transport Association (IATA) will also put a voluntary cap on emissions from 2020, further fuelling interest in alternative fuels.

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