Airlines are projected to spend about $212 billion on fuel in 2014, which equates to 30% of their operating expenses, according to the International Air Transportation Association (IATA). The trade group estimated the industry-wide fuel cost to be $210 billion in 2013 and $208 billion in 2012. By comparison, airlines spent just $44 billion on fuel in 2003, which accounted for 14% of their operating costs.
“We have never faced a period of such sustained high fuel costs,” Brian Pearce, IATA’s chief economist, said during the organization’s annual general meeting in June 2014.
Many airlines and airplane manufacturers already have flight-tested various biofuel blends, according to IATA. Those test flights, performed between 2008 and 2011, showed that biofuels could be blended with conventional jet fuel without any modifications to the aircraft. In fact, some engines powered by the blend showed increased fuel efficiency.
Bio-jet fuel blends up to 50% have been cleared for use in commercial passenger flights since 2011, the association reports on its website. Still, the high cost of biofuel relative to conventional jet fuel remains a barrier to widespread adoption.
Amyris, a bioscience company, and energy giant Total recently announced that they will begin marketing a new jet fuel mix that meets revised industry standards. The new product contains up to 10% blends of farnesane, a biofuel derived from sugar cane.
“The introduction of our green fuel for the commercial aviation industry has the potential to lead to a meaningful reduction of greenhouse gas emissions with strong performance,” Total executive Philippe Boisseau said in a statement.
Brazilian airline GOL has announced that it will begin using the farnesane blend for its fleet of Boeing 737s on commercial flights between Sao Paulo, Brazil, and Florida.
Boeing executive Julie Felgar told Aviation International News that the Chicago-based aircraft manufacturer would like biofuel to account for 1% of the total jet fuel supply within the next decade. Felgar said biofuels could help airlines reduce carbon emissions by half, in part because the plants used to create the fuels can absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.
Halophytes, which thrive in high-salinity environments, are among the plants being studied for use in biofuels, according to the IATA. Camelina, jatropha and switch grass are also being investigated, along with used cooking oil and municipal waste.