Are Biofuels the Future of the Aviation Industry?

Green development is the principle that every industry is striving to follow. With an estimated 781 million tons of carbon dioxide emissions by aircrafts, the aviation industry has also taken up the ‘green cause’. Switching to alternative fuels like biofuels is one of the best ways in which the aviation industry can do its share for a greener and cleaner earth. As determined by the industry analysts at Technavio, the global aviation alternative fuels market will grow steadily in the next four to five years, recording a CAGR of 4% by 2020.

Biofuels and air transport

The air transport industry has grown substantially since its inception. The mode of transport that is being used by around two billion people worldwide and provides employment to around 30 million people also plays an important role in the production of carbon emissions. It is due to this reason that it has become increasingly important for the aviation industry to resort to greener ways of conducting daily business. The traditional fuels used in the aviation industry have a negative impact on the environment. and that’s where biofuels come into play.

Produced from renewable resources like plant materials, biofuels have emerged as a clean and sustainable source of fuel. To date, first-generation biofuels have been used for cooking, home heating, power generation, and in the transport sector. Biofuels are derived from food crops that can be used by both humans and animals. These include rapeseed, sugarcane and corn.

Evolution of Biofuel Generation

evolution of biofuel generation; image

Source: Technavio

Despite having major environmental benefits, first-generation biofuel is not seen as a viable fuel option for air transport due to the inherent fluctuations in its pricing. This is mainly because these fuels are derived from food crops, and ultimately create volatility in the food crop market. Second-generation biofuels, on the other hand, are derived from feedstocks like algae, halophytes, jatropha and camelina. When it comes to the aviation industry, fuel is one of the largest components of its operational costs. Unlike first-generation biofuels, second-generation biofuels do not utilize valuable food, land, and water resources; rather, they can be mass produced in the desert and in sea water as well. Thus, second-generation biofuels have the capability to deliver large amounts of greener fuel for air transport at more stable prices.

Most of all, as the commercial aviation industry is relatively less complex than other forms of transport, it is easier to implement the use of biofuels. Other transport mediums are often more dispersed and less controlled, and it is even easier to track the cost-benefit of biofuels in the aviation industry.

Possible challenges

Apart from the cost aspect, one challenge that biofuels in general, and second-generation biofuel in particular, need to address is being the correct substitute for traditional jet fuel for aviation, in terms of flash point, freezing point, combustion heat, and density. Also, the aviation industry is focused on using fuels that can be produced in large volumes at a low cost and, at the same time, are sustainable.

Though first-generation biofuels fail to meet all of the criteria, second-generation biofuels do meet the necessary requirements. Thus, even though biofuels might seem like an economical solution at this point of time, in the forthcoming years, with an increase in the biofuel supply backed by stringent government policies, biofuels will emerge as the future of the aviation industry.

To get more in-depth insight on the market for alternative fuels:

Order the 2016-2020 Report on the Global Aviation Alternative Fuels Market

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The 2016-2020 Report on the Global Aviation Fuel Market