10/04/2011

An Iberia biofuel test flight

Last Monday, 4 October, Spain's Iberia airline flew an aircraft from Madrid to Barcelona using partly bio-kerosene. The future or just a publicity exercise?


This flight, which has been widely reported, used a mixture of normal aviation kerosene and a synthesized paraffin bio-kerosene. The aircraft used, an Airbus A320, was modified to accept this fuel, and Iberia claims that it saved 1500 kg of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions.

Iberia is, of course, just the latest entrant in the race to be seen as greener, by reducing these CO2 emissions. Where they may score over other competitors is in the use of the camelina sativa oil plant, which they claim can be grown in arid land (although it would grow better in fertile land!).

This, of course, is the Achilles heel of many bio-fuel production projects, in that they may cause good growing land to be changed from food, of which the world has hardly enough, to biofuels. Environmental associations, such as Friends of the Earth, are very concerned about the result, in terms of reduced food production, of very large-scale agricultural biofuel production.

Iberia themselves have clearly stated that this was a one-off flight to demonstrate feasibility, whose cost was too high for them to operate any more such flights in thhe near future. Many believe, probably correctly, that the flights are being operated principally for publicity reasons.

My own feeling is that, in spite of all the hype, it will be a very long time before the use of biofuels, involving new or modified aircraft engines, will make any significant reduction in CO2 emissions: I would hope that these biofuels would be produced in a manner not incompatible with food production. In the meantime we all have to make decisions, on how much, how often and for what reasons, we choose to fly.

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