Carrying Sustainable Aviation Biofuel

KLM Royal Dutch Airliner Being refuelled with Sustainable BioFuelSource: KLM

On 7th October, 2013 I wrote[1] about KLM Royal Dutch Airlines (KLM) and their announcement that on the 8th March, 2013[2] it had started weekly flights by a Boeing 777-200 between John F. Kennedy Airport in New York City, USA and Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport, Netherlands using sustainable biofuel supplied by SkyNRG, a company which KLM founded in 2009.

Now, four years later, I take a look at where we are with the use of biofuel, sustainable aviation fuel (SAF), and the rationale for its use.

What is Sustainable Aviation Fuel?

“Sustainable Aviation Fuel”, or “SAF”, refers to jet fuel that, rather than being refined from petroleum, is produced from renewable feedstocks such as waste oils (e.g. used cooking oil) as is the case with SkyNRG. SAF is a so called “drop-in” fuel, which means it can be blended with fossil jet fuel and that the blended fuel requires no special infrastructure or equipment changes. Once it’s blended, the fuel is fully certified (ASTM D1655/ DEFSTAN 91-91).[3]

The Rationale

Flying is essential globally for economies, businesses and even personal use. The aviation industry is expected to double in carbon emissions by 2050. Currently, aviation accounts for approximately 2% of all man made global carbon dioxide emissions. That figure could rise to as much as 5% by 2050 due to the sector’s anticipated rapid growth and forecasted carbon reduction from other industries. In order to maintain this growth and at the same time address environmental impact, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) has committed to carbon neutral growth by 2020 and reducing net aviation carbon emissions to 50% below 2005 levels by 2050.

More than 99% of airline emissions and approximately 50% of airport emissions result from the combustion of kerosene. Increased energy efficiency and energy demand reduction are effective ways and the first priority to reduce fuel consumption and related greenhouse gas emissions. But efficiency improvements do not offer a sole solution to aviation related emissions and dependency on oil. Because airplanes are not able to switch to alternative energy sources like hydrogen or electricity in the foreseeable future, SAF made from renewable biomass is the only way to significantly reduce the industry’s carbon footprint and at the same time also reduce the dependency on fossil kerosene.[4]

Continued Growth

Throughout 2014 more and more KLM SAF flights were added with routes such as Amsterdam to the Caribbean islands of Aruba and Bonaire, Karlstad to Frankfurt, Karlstad to Stockholm, Trondheim to Oslo and from Bergen to Oslo to name but a few.

Friday 16 May 2014 marked the longest biofuel flight performed by an Airbus A330-200 aircraft[5]. The 10-hour flight was powered by a 20 per cent blend made of used cooking oil supplied by sustainable aviation biofuel provider SkyNRG. Also of note for SkyNRG, in 2014 is that it supplied more than 20 airlines around the world with SAF.

British Airways’ Head of Environment, Jonathon Counsell, announced that a 20-acre (8ha) site in east London was selected for its GreenSky project with Solena fuels. GreenSky will convert around 600,000 tonnes of municipal waste into 50,000 tonnes of biojet and 50,000 tonnes of biodiesel annually with an expectation of annual savings of up to 145,000 tonnes of CO2. There is an estimated 10 million tonnes of available municipal waste within a 25-mile radius of the proposed project. Under British Airways’ 10-year contract with Solena, it will purchase all the fuel – worth $500 million at 2014’s prices – produced by the plant.[6]

2014 also saw the announcement of new Feedstocks for the production of SAF. From the Abu Dhabi research on the shrub-like plant, Halophytes, which feeds off seawater in desert terrain. The research was spearheaded by the Sustainable Bioenergy Research Consortium (SBRC), which is funded by Boeing, Etihad Airways and Honeywell UOP. “Halophytes show even more promise than we expected as a source of renewable fuel for jets and other vehicles,” said SBRC director Dr. Alejandro Rios in a statement.[7]

A two-year study commissioned by Airbus, Virgin Australia and other partners has concluded Mallee Eucalypts could be the basis for a viable and sustainable jet biofuel sector in Western Australia. Mallee Eucalypts are grown in belts across Australian wheatbelt farms and provide vegetative cover. They are hardy trees that can withstand regular harvesting while benefiting the farm in other ways. With a deep-rooted system and perennial growth, the mallee can draw up excess water to reduce waterlogging of crops. The study estimated a mallee-based biofuels industry – including harvesting, transport and production – could provide employment for 40 people and bring about A$30 million per year.[8]

2015 saw Boeing, SkyNRG and the University of British Columbia (UBC) form a consortium with Canadian aviation industry partners to assess the potential of producing sustainable jet fuel from forest residues using thermochemical processing. A Boeing-sponsored study by UBC found that fuel from Canada’s sustainably certified forests’ waste could meet 10% – about 175 million litres – of British Columbia’s annual jet fuel demand.[9]

Certification was awarded by the Roundtable on Sustainable Biomaterials (RSB) for the South African “Project Solaris”. Project Solaris, run by Boeing, SkyNRG, South African Airways and Sunchem Holdings, is an initiative that is developing an energy-rich tobacco crop with the patented nicotine-free and GMO-free Solaris oil seed, owned by Sunchem Holdings, for use as a feedstock for producing aviation biofuel.[10]

2016 – Africa’s first sustainable biofuel commercial flight took place when a South African Airways Boeing 737-800 flying from Johannesburg to Cape Town used a jet fuel produced from nicotine-free tobacco plants grown in the Limpopo region of South Africa under the Solaris project.[11]

KLM initiated a series of sustainable biofuel flights between Oslo and Amsterdam. The series of daily flights by KLM Cityhopper was over a six week period using EMBRAER 190 E-Jet. The SAF for the series of daily flights was purchased from Gardermoen airport in Oslo which was the first airport in the world to include biofuel in its regular fuelling processes.[12]

KLM announced that all its flights originating in Los Angeles will be using sustainable biofuel for the next three years. The biofuel is being produced by AltAir, a local biofuel refinery, and delivered by SkyNRG to Los Angeles which became the second airport in the world to include biofuel in its regular fuelling processes.[13]

2017 – Qantas has announced that its flights from Los Angeles will be powered by biofuel from 2020 as a result of an off-take agreement with US bioenergy company SG Preston. The Australian airline says it will purchase 30 million litres of renewable jet fuel per year for a 10-year period. The fuel will be a 50/50 blend of conventional jet fuel and renewable fuel produced from non-food plant oils.[14]

What was once a novel idea has become a burgeoning, sustainable industry that is working to counter the effects that its fossil fuel use has on our environment. Whilst I am not convinced that the use of land and fresh water to to grow SAF feedstock is a good step there are a couple of feedstocks that appear, with the information available, to utilise land and water that would otherwise not be used – plants such as the Halophytes with their thirst for saltwater and desert land and Mallee Eucalypts that are grown between fields of wheat and soak excess water that would normally waterlog the fields.


[2] Press release – “Weekly flight using sustainable Biofuel”
[3] What is Sustainable Aviation Fuel?
[4] Rationale for sustainable aviation fuel (SAF)
[5] Longest biofuel flight performed by an Airbus A330-200 aircraft
[6] GreenSky projec will convert around 600,000 tonnes of municipal waste into 50,000 tonnes of biojet
[7] Research on the shrub-like plant halophytes
[8] Mallee Eucalypts could be the basis for a viable and sustainable jet biofuel sector
[9] Consortium will assess whether there is scope to produce sustainable jet fuel Canada’s sustainably certified forests’ waste.
[10] RSB certification for Project Solaris
[11] Produced from high-energy tobacco crops, SAA undertakes Africa’s first sustainable biofuel commercial flight
[12] Series of daily flights by KLM Cityhopper over a six week period using EMBRAER 190 E-Jet
[13] All KLM flights originating in Los Angeles to use sustainable biofuel for the next three years.
[14] Qantas has announced that its flights from Los Angeles will be powered by biofuel from 2020
[15] Virgin Australia has announced it will shortly start trialling the use of renewable jet fuel


  1. P. McLaughlin said:
    24 November 5:38 pm

    It’s good to see that this initiative by KLM has blossomed into something substantial.

  2. Karen said:
    25 November 7:42 am

    I wonder whether they can use a complete biofuel instead of a blend? Nice update Tee Kay.

  3. Charles said:
    25 November 9:04 am

    It has been four years and although quite a lot has been done there is so far to go. Is it resistance because of pressure by the Fossil fuel industry? Is it because supply couldn’t keep up to demand if all airlines and flights switched?