Aviation Biofuel: Fiscal And Environmental Implications

Aviation Biofuel: Fiscal And Environmental ImplicationsBy Ayoola Olaitan

Aviation biofuel is aimed at achieving 80 percent reduction in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. It is necessary that airlines blend renewable biofuel with JET A1 to meet their emissions reduction obligations.

Biofuels are manufactured from oils, sugars, and biomass from plants, rather than from fossil fuels. A recent environmental study estimates that biofuels could feasibly reduce aviation’s emissions by as much as nine percent between 2020 and 2035.

A primary reason for biofuel use is that biofuels represent a renewable substitute for fossil fuels and can potentially lower GHG emissions from transport, especially air transport. Sustainability, in the context of biofuel, may be broadly defined as conserving an ecological balance by avoiding depletion of natural resources.

The first flight using blended biofuel took place in 2008. Still, aviation biofuel production of about 15 million litres in 2018 accounted for less than 0.1 per cent of total aviation fuel consumption.

The aviation industry produces more than 3 per cent of global carbon emissions and is one of the most polluting industries on the planet. Furthermore, by 2038 air passengers are forecast to double, which if left unchecked, will make it harder for their host countries to achieve their net-zero carbon emission targets.

In the past, the use of aviation biofuels was usually driven by lack of petrochemicals.

Speaking with MMS Plus, the CEO/Founder of McRonald AutoDrone Centre Ltd, Engr. Ronald Ajiboye warned against biofuel as alternative fuel for the aviation industry, arguing that the availability of the products and cost optimization should be looked into.

Ajiboye, who is also an Aerospace Engineer, noted that for any engineering solution or design there is a defender or challenger which means “there is an existing solution before and you intend to create a better solution which is using an optimized version. The challenging one must ensure that there must be cost optimization”

“The biofuel is still used for research purposes because there are several limitations to it. The materials are not available and the extraction process is cumbersome and the cost of producing it might be high making commercializing it. Also, the chemical composition is another concern that needs to be looked into.”

Meanwhile, the Director, Transport Research and Intelligence , Nigerian Institute of Transport Technology (NITT), Dr. Danjuma Ismalia argued that biofuel was postulated as a result of economic rise in cost of global aviation fuel which was taking the larger percentage of airline operations cost.

According to him, “airlines where complaining bitterly about the profit margin on coat of operations, so there was need for alternative look for the aviation fuel and also because of the GHG emissions which needs to be reduced”

Ismaila noted that in developed countries airlines emitting high cargo were charged for landing and take off at the airports. He posits further that charges are based on the type of aircraft model being used.

“If an airline is using a model aircraft it will pay less for carbon emission charges, if the aircraft being used is not a model aircraft such aircraft will be charged more. I can’t say if Nigeria has started charging for emission discharge,” he said.

The Director also opined that biofuel had been faced with limitations. He pointed out that producing biofuel or making it an alternative for aviation fuel means there will be food shortage globally. Also, the availability of the biofuel is another constraint which cannot be overlooked.

“Biofuel is never an alternative for the industry because it is never available. There have been other alternatives looked into which are; solar energy, electricity and hydrogen as alternatives to aviation fuel. In Nigeria I don’t think there has been a single drop of biofuel at the airports, globally the alternative (biofuel) is just used, it is just used as a test run because it is not available”he noted.

However, International Civil Aviation Authority (ICAO) estimates that there is a massive gap between demand and supply of fuel consumption for international aviation and is likely to cross 850 million tons by 2050.

ICAO’s plan to reduce emissions through the large-scale use of biofuel and this is facing severe criticisms from various environmental groups. More than 100 green organizations claimed biofuel has led to massive deforestation in Indonesia, Malaysia, and recently in Africa. The deforestation has led to habitat loss of many species and led to conflict among indigenous people.

With demand for travel primed to reach its peak in 2020, which would have meant a lot for the aviation industry, airlines, and, most importantly, Oil markets but due to the set back caused by the pandemic this would not be achieved. Jet fuel demand averages about 8 million barrels per day. As a result of the pandemic, the International Energy Agency expects demand for jet fuel and kerosene to fall by 2.1 million bpd on average in 2020.

We are now faced with a travel industry that is more precautionary of a virus, so this means fewer travels and social distancing in aircraft. Although a few people are acting oblivious to the pandemic by carrying on with their summer plans, travels are still below pre-pandemic levels.

However, Africa aviation made history for itself in contributing to the reduction of emission. South Africa was  the first aviation industry in Africa to ever fly the first ever flights fueled by biofuel made from tobacco plants in the continent. In 2006, South African Airways (SAA) and its subsidiary Mango flew Boeing 737-800s from OR Tambo International Airport near Johannesburg and over Cape Town.

Currently, refineries around the world, led by the U.S., Europe, and Brazil, produce 150 billion liters of biofuel annually. ICAO forecasts that fuel consumption for international aviation could run as high as 850 million tons by 2050, suggesting a requirement for 425 million tons of biofuel to meet greenhouse gas emissions-reduction goals. Current production, however, remains limited, at less than 0.1 percent of the global total consumption of all types of jet fuel.

Looking at the future potential of biofuel in sub-Saharan Africa includes regions where population growth rates are among the highest in the world. At the same time, many African countries are also expected to achieve strong economic development.

Meanwhile, many airlines such as KLM, Emirates and Virgin Atlantic are enabling their aircraft fleet to be fueled with low-carbon aviation biofuel that meets international standards because it is a drop in substitute to JET A1.

Achieving price competitiveness for alternative jet fuels is a major challenge to developing a viable market. The impediments to competitive pricing were high development costs and the uncertainty of federal regulations and policies that federal activities are needed to help advance the alternative jet-fuels industry.

In the short to medium term, this is the most viable route for the aviation industry to reduce emissions. This is because alternative fuels such as hydrogen require new engines to be developed, and planes can’t  electrify as easily as cars because the poor energy density of today’s batteries makes them too heavy to get off the ground.

However, many African countries are faced with a high cost of aviation fuel which gulps over 30% of operational cost of airlines especially in Nigeria, with the supply of the product sometimes epileptic, resulting in flight disruptions. The large-scale adoption of biofuels needs to be encouraged to make more sustainable aviation fuels accessible on a global scale and help in cost reductions for airlines.

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