Certainly it is a great leap for biofuels that KLM Royal Dutch Airlines has successfully make a seven-hour flight from New York to Amsterdam flying on recycled cooking oil, after trying a number of biofuel experiments over the past five years.
As of last Thursday, KLM is calling it a success and will now fly its TransAtlantic cooking oil Flight 642 using a Boeing 777-200 on this same route every Thursday.
“Alongside this biofuel series, we are starting a study to further identify sustainability gains in fuel, weight and carbon dioxide reduction throughout the entire flight process. We are striving to achieve the ‘optimal flight’,” said KLM Managing Director Camiel Eurlings.
By 2015, the carbon-conscious airline hopes to have 1% of its flights flying on biofuels.
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Prior to this success, KLM had experimented with algae-based biofuels in Fokker-50 planes and with a bio-kerosene-cooking oil blend on short flights. This second experiment has met with some success and the airline operates around 200 short flights on this blend, but crossing the Atlantic on 100% cooking oil is surely raising the bar.
KLM is also offering a special service that allows its large corporate accounts to choose the proportion of biofuels used in their flights. Companies like Accenture, Heineken, Nike, and Philips are all privy to this service.
The TransAtlantic cooking flight was also made possible due to KLM’s partnership with the Schiphol Group, which has experience in biofuel tanking and also has an ownership interest in New York’s JFK airport Terminal 4.
The biofuel used for these flights is supplied by SkyNRG, which enjoys that status of the first company to have obtained certification from the Roundtable on Sustainable Biofuels. SkyNRG is an aviation biofuel company that was founded by KLM in 2009.
What does this mean for other airlines? Most major airlines are already investing significantly in biofuels technologies, particularly from algae and waste products. This has been spurred along in part by the European Union’s levy on airlines’ carbon emissions (full implementation has been delayed).
And what does it mean for flight prices? This part will be hard for the consumer to swallow. While biofuels can reduce emissions by as much as 80%, it costs about three times as much per gallon as regular jet fuel. So the cooking oil flight is a milestone, but an expensive one.
In the meantime, here’s another airline raising the alternative flying bar: Qatar Airways, but this time with natural gas.
In early January, Qatar Airways completed its first commercial flight from Doha to London using fuel produced from natural gas from a plant in Qatar in partnership with Qatar Petroleum and Shell. The fuel was a blend of gas-to-liquids kerosene and conventional oil-derived jet fuel. Gas-to-liquids products have fewer emissions than conventional jet fuel—and for now, this will be less costly than cooking oil.
By. Charles Kennedy of Oilprice.com