LUFTHANSA Six-month Bio-fuel Trial Flights.

Availability and sustainability key challenges, says Lufthansa, as biofuel trials end with first commercial transatlantic flight.

Lufthansa aims to switch bio-fuel production from palm oil to jatropha oil and is attempting to ‘collect every single jatropha nut in the market’, according to a Lufthansa spokesperson. The airline hopes the plant-based jet fuel, made by Finnish bio-fuel giant Neste Oil, will contain up to 60 per cent jatropha oil. One engine of the Lufthansa Airbus A321 flying the Hamburg to Frankfurt route will use a 50:50 mix of bio-fuel and traditional kerosene, during the six-month trial. Lufthansa claim 1,500 tonnes of CO2 emissions will be saved during the trial and only sustainable sources of fuel will be used. ‘Our goal must be to achieve a positive contribution to the environment and save CO2,’ said a Lufthansa spokesperson. ‘We are doing our best to consider all sustainability aspects in our trial, which is supervised by external scientists. If we discover that we cannot fulfil our strict sustainability requirements, we will react accordingly.’

Joachim Buse, Vice President Aviation Biofuel says “jatropha would be the best option. “But there’s not enough of it at the moment, “For this reason, we will very likely not be able to buy the quantity of jatropha oil needed for the 1,400 test flights. We will compensate for the discrepancy with certifiably sustainable palm oil and used vegetable oil in order to carry out these flights in the first place. This is a temporary solution that we consider acceptable, given the excellent potential.”

The six-month trial by Lufthansa using biofuel blends on the route between Hamburg and Frankfurt has ended with the first-ever scheduled commercial transatlantic biofuel flight. In all, 1,187 scheduled flights were carried out using an Airbus A321 with a 50-50 blend of regular fuel and biosynthetic kerosene in one engine. Total consumption of the bio-kerosene mix amounted to 1,556 tonnes, says the airline, and initial calculations suggest CO2 emissions were reduced by 1,471 tonnes as a result. Lufthansa also reports that thanks to the higher density of biofuel, fuel consumption is reduced by more than one per cent, with the added benefit of cleaner burning fuel due to a lack of sulphur and aromatic compounds.

“Our burnFAIR project went off smoothly and to our fullest satisfaction. “As expected, biofuel proved its worth in daily flight operations.”

Despite the success of the trials, Buse warned of challenges ahead for aviation biofuels. “As a next step, we will focus on the suitability, availability, sustainability and certification of raw materials. But first we must tap into this market.
 “However, Lufthansa will only continue the practical trial if we are able to secure the volume of sustainable, certified raw materials required in order to maintain routine operations. In the meantime, the airline will focus on analysing the data captured during the trial to look at the effects of biofuels on both the environment and also the maintenance and life-time of the engines. Lufthansa claims biofuels emit around 50% less than conventional fossil fuels.
 The Boeing 747-400 transatlantic flight carried around 40 tonnes of biofuel mix and saved 38 tonnes of CO2 compared to using regular jet kerosene, equivalent to the CO2 emissions of six scheduled flights between Frankfurt and Berlin, claims the airline.

The total cost of the trial amounted to €6.6 million ($8.6m), with a €2.5 million grant contribution from the German government.

 “If we want to protect our climate and thus our future in a sustainable manner, we need innovative ideas and technologies and an environmentally friendly alternative to fossil fuels – particularly in view of the growing demand for mobility worldwide,” said Christoph Franz, Chairman of Deutsche Lufthansa’s Executive Board.

Lufthansa PureSky (more details of the trial)