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Posted 27 September 2019 · Add Comment

Sustainable alternative jet fuel is no longer an initiative, it’s an essential. More than half the aircraft flying into this year’s European Business Aviation Convention & Exhibition (EBACE) display were burning biofuel. Dave Calderwood was on one of them.

The Embraer Phenom 300E accelerated quickly and lifted off barely halfway down Farnborough’s runway, punching up through the clouds before being vectored around London’s airspace by air traffic control.
Soon, though, we were clear and heading south-east across the English Channel, above France and bound for Geneva, Switzerland, for the annual EBACE show.
It was cloudy around Geneva too and, again, because of other traffic, we couldn’t go straight into the approach procedure. The airport operates on north-south axis between the Alps to the west and the city and lake to the east.
We knew this because we could follow every move on the Phenom’s impressive Garmin G3000 multifunctional display, which was visible through the cockpit door. Red and yellow areas on the moving map warned of the high ground nearby but, again, soon we were cleared to join the approach.
What was clear, though, was that the jet’s engines were not in the least bothered by having a tankful of sustainable alternative jet fuel (SAJF), and the fuel wasn’t affecting how the two Embraer factory pilots were flying the aircraft.
David Coleal, president of Bombardier Business Aircraft and chair of the General Aviation Manufacturers’ Association (GAMA) environment committee, had been dead right earlier in the day when he said: “The aircraft doesn’t know the difference between SAJF and Jet A1. SAJF is a drop-in fuel.”
One of the two big themes at this year’s EBACE was sustainability. Before the show opened, a coalition of business aircraft manufacturers, fuel companies and operators, came together at TAG Farnborough Airport in the UK to launch business aviation’s participation in the EU sustainable energy week and promote the way forward for SAJF.
There’s no doubt that business aviation is supportive of the SAJF initiative – and with good reason. The ambitious targets set out cannot be met without its use.
That’s right. All the good work done by aircraft manufacturers to produce aircraft that burn less fuel with clever aerodynamics, winglets, lighter materials and more efficient engines, all the work to become carbon neutral by airports such as TAG Farnborough, and even advanced avionics and software, which facilitate efficient flight planning, are not enough on their own.
Kurt Edwards, director-general of the International Business Aviation Council (IBAC), made it clear that to meet the 2050 target to become carbon neutral is a big ask.
“New business aviation aircraft are making a big difference,” he said. “They are, on average, 15% more fuel-efficient. Gulfstream’s G500 and G600 are 20% more efficient than the aircraft they replace. The Global 7500 is 10% more efficient than smaller existing Globals.
“But sustainable aviation fuel is a key factor in meeting the goals – it’s probably going to make the biggest impact. Relative to fossil fuels, sustainably produced unconventional jet fuel results in a net reduction in CO2 emissions across its lifecycle.
“The industry has focussed on fuels that produce more than 50% reductions but it’s not uncommon to see approaches that deliver up to 80%. What’s more, SAJF can be slightly more efficient than conventional Jet A due to a higher energy mass density.”
After the presentations came a panel discussion chaired by Tim Obitts, chief operating officer of the National Air Transport Association (NATA), and featuring seven key players in the SAJF coalition.
Straight away the panel zeroed in on price, with Gulfstream scientist, Charles Etter, saying that with SAJF currently three times the price of Jet A1 in Europe and the US, it’s better suited to business aviation than commercial air traffic, which is more price sensitive.
“SAJF can help support a company’s own sustainability goals with carbon offsetting,” he said. Etter was involved in an SAJF demo day at California’s Van Nuys Airport in January. “Afterwards, we had the phones ringing off the hook with operators asking where they could get SAJF. There’s a desire, need and willingness to use SAJF among corporate operators because of their environmental responsibilities.”
Juergen Weise, chairman of EBAA and head of car manufacturer BMW’s global corporate aviation operations, confirmed that demand is there even at that price difference.
Marcelo de Freitas, a development engineer at Embraer, who is deeply involved in Brazil’s emerging biofuel market, pointed out that production of biofuels is a young industry, just 10 years old, and that they were still working on different ways to produce it.
For World Fuel Services director, Guy Sawyer, one important aspect was the blending process. Currently SAJF has around 17% biofuel blended with Jet A1, with blends of up to 30% projected. Jet A1 is still necessary because of certain aromatics present to help with seal swelling. “Blending takes time and the fuel has to be retested and this all takes time,” said Sawyer.
Keith Sawyer (no relation), Avfuel’s manager of alternative fuels, pointed out the ‘virtuous circle’ of SAJF whereby the CO2 produced is absorbed by the growing of raw materials.
“We’re recycling carbon molecules through photosynthesis,” confirmed Etter.
Brad Nolen, of Bombardier, fielded a question about electrification of aircraft, pointing out that it comes down to energy density. “One pound of Jet A1 produces 40 times more energy than one pound of lithium-ion battery,” he said. Hybrid aircraft are more likely than all-electric aircraft.
The crunch for business aviation is availability, with operators using hundreds of small airports – a challenge to supply.
“But the real bottleneck is the pool of supply,” said Tom Parsons of Air BP. “More sources are necessary.”
However, even with the current supply issues, Parsons thinks that the SAJF market will double each year.

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