Airbus and British Airways Join Forces with Cranfield University to Accelerate Availability of Algae for Aviation Fuel

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Several powerhouses of the aviation industry are backing Cranfield University’s pioneering project to solve how to harvest algae to produce jet fuel in commercial quantities.

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Algae grows naturally in sea water and with over 70% of the surface of the earth being water, Cranfield’s Sea Green project is a logical and potentially high yield solution

The Sustainable Use of Renewable Fuels (SURF) consortium which brings together Airbus, British Airways and Cranfield University, among many others, was announced at today’s Aviation and Environment Summit in Geneva. The consortium will take a structured approach to addressing five major considerations for the successful use of fuels from a renewable source like microalgae. These will include; environmental impact; processing, capacity and distribution; commercial and legislation and regulation. Specific studies will look at future sustainability modelling and environmental lifecycle assessment.

SURF is based around Cranfield’s Sea Green project and will serve as an advisory group supporting the definition, objectives and outcomes of this project. The University already has a pilot facility on campus which is growing and processing algae for bio-fuels but the eventual aim is for Sea Green to be an ocean-based facility for the sustainable production of commercial quantities of biomass for bio-fuels. It will be designed to use the expanse of the world’s near-shore waters to rapidly grow microalgae at a faster rate than any other initiative and capture CO2 from the atmosphere and seas at the same time. This will be done in an environmentally friendly, sustainable facility with a negative carbon mechanism (meaning that net carbon is taken out of the atmosphere))that does not compete with agricultural land, does not require fresh water, does not result in deforestation and does not damage the environment.

It is envisaged that the first commercial quantities of products from Sea Green will become available within three years.

Professor Feargal Brennan, Head of Cranfield University’s Department of Offshore, Process and Energy Engineering said: “Many biofuels compete with agricultural land and fresh water which results in the price of food being pushed up. This project and consortium aim to see how algae could benefit the aviation industry. It will look at ways to grow and harvest naturally occurring species of algae in large volumes and to process these into fuel. Algae grows naturally in sea water and with over 70% of the surface of the earth being water, Cranfield’s Sea Green project is a logical and potentially high yield solution. Few replacement options to kerosene for fuelling commercial aircraft have been identified but jet fuel produced from algae produced in this way, could be a major break-through.”

Paul Nash, Airbus Head of new Energies, said: “Airbus is a Catalyst for the implementation of sustainable alternative fuels and we continue to investigate all options for the production of biofuels. We see algae as one of the most promising and sustainable solutions for commercial quantities of biofuels. Industry initiatives like SURF demonstrate our commitment to reducing emissions. Airbus is committed to a three pronged alternative fuels strategy; alternative fuels, air traffic management and the latest aircraft technology.

Jonathon Counsell, Head of Environment at British Airways, said: “Sustainable fuels will play a critical role in reducing the carbon footprint of global aviation by 50% net by 2050, delivering substantially lower life-cycle emissions whilst avoiding other environmental impacts.”

SURF is made up of Airbus, British Airways, Rolls-Royce, Finnair, Gatwick Airport, IATA and Cranfield University.

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Naomie Stanford-Jones
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