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Fact Sheet: Alternative Fuels

  • The industry is exploring reliable alternatives to conventional jet fuel that are sustainable and have a smaller carbon footprint
  • Main requirements for sustainable alternative jet fuels:
    • Can be mixed with conventional jet fuel, can use the same supply infrastructure and do not require adaptation of aircraft or engines (drop-in fuel)
    • Meet the same specifications as conventional jet fuel, in particular resistance to cold (Jet A: -40˚C, Jet A-1: -47˚C), and high energy content (min 42.8 MJ/kg)
    • Meet sustainability criteria such as lifecycle carbon reductions, limited fresh water requirements, no competition with food production and no deforestation 
    • Automotive bioethanol and biodiesel are not suitable
  • Sustainable aviation biofuels (“biojet fuels”) are one of the most promising solutions to meet the industry’s ambitious carbon emissions reduction goals
  • Sustainable biojet fuels allow airlines to reduce their carbon footprint, ease their dependence on fossil fuels, and offset the risks associated with the high volatility of oil and fuel prices

Sustainable Sources of Biomass

  • Biofuels should be made from a wide variety of sustainable, non-food biomass sources such as:
    • Camelina is an energy crop that grows in rotation with wheat and other cereal crops
    • Halophytes thrive in salty regions where little else grows 
    • Jatropha can be grown on degraded lands and is resistant to drought
    • Switch grass grows quickly, needs little water and produces a high yield of biomass 
    • Used cooking oil can be easily collected and recycled
    • Agricultural and forestry by-products yield valuable biomass without requiring dedicated land
    • Municipal waste contains biomass and can be diverted from landfills
    • Algae are simple, photosynthetic organisms 
      • Can be grown in polluted or salt water 
      • Can produce up to 250 times more oil per unit area than soybeans
  • Lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions from biofuels can be up to 80% lower than traditional jet fuel emissions

Alternative Fuels in Practice

  • Between 2008 and 2011, at least ten airlines and several aircraft manufacturers performed flight tests with various blends containing up to 50% biojet fuel. These tests demonstrated that biojet fuel was technically sound, and the following observations were made:
    • No modifications to the aircraft were required
    • Biojet fuel could be blended with conventional fuel
    • The engine powered on the biojet mix even showed an improvement in fuel efficiency in some cases
  • Since the certification of hydroprocessed esters and fatty acids (HEFA) fuels in 2011, 18 airlines have performed over 1500 commercial passenger flights with blends of up to 50% biojet fuel from used cooking oil, jatropha, camelina and algae 
  • Airlines involved: KLM*, Lufthansa*, Finnair, Interjet, Aeroméxico, Iberia, Thomson Airways*, Air France, United Airlines, Air China, Alaska Airlines*, Thai Airways, LAN, Qantas, Jetstar (* indicates longer series of regular biojet flights) 
    • Lufthansa successfully completed a six-month series of commercial flights to study the long-term effect of biojet fuel on engines, noting no adverse effects
  • All over the world multi-stakeholder groups (airlines, airports, aircraft manufacturers, governments, biomass and biofuel producers and suppliers) are working together on initiatives for the deployment of biojet fuels. Some examples include CAAFI (US), ABRABA (Brazil), aireg (Germany), Bioqueroseno (Spain), Plan de Vuelo (Mexico), AISAF (Australia) and further projects are taking place in China, New Zealand, Qatar, Scandinavia, Romania and more


  • IATA is working with ASTM International and other certification bodies on new alternative jet fuel standards (e.g. ASTM D7566)
  • Since 2011 biojet fuel blends of up to 50% are certified for commercial passenger flights
  • It is expected that by 2014 two additional alternative fuels will be certified: alcohol to jet (ATJ) and synthetic kerosene containing aromatics (SKA)

Production and Impact on Net Emissions

  • The main challenges to a wide deployment of biojet fuels are not technical, but commercial and political
  • Currently, biojet fuels are significantly more expensive than Jet A/A1, therefore demand is low and risk is high for investment in production infrastructure. Carefully designed policy is needed to foster investment and development of biojet production capacity 
  • In the United States a combination of incentives according to the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) and incentives for agriculture, under the right conditions, can open the possibility of price competitive biojet fuel being available. An example of late 2013 is the United  Airlines purchase agreement (reported as price competitive) with AltAir Fuel to purchase 5 million gallons per annum for three years. The European Union, with its Biofuels Flightpath project, has set a target of two million tonnes per year of aviation biofuels in Europe in 2020, which is about three to four percent of total jet fuel use in Europe
  • Aireg in Germany has set a target of 10% of alternative aviation fuel for 2025
  • Indonesia has introduced a biojet fuel mandate of 2% commencing in 2016, rising to 5% by 2025
  • A three percent volume blend-in of sustainable second generation biojet fuel yearly worldwide would reduce aviation CO2 emissions by about two percent, which would be a reduction of over 10 million tonnes of CO2. This would require investment of around $10-15 billion in production and distribution facilities

IATA Position on Biojet Fuel

  • IATA recognizes that aircraft are long-lived assets and will be using conventional jet fuel or fuels that resemble jet fuel for many years to come
  • IATA supports research, development and deployment of biojet fuels that meet environmental, societal and economic sustainability criteria
    • IATA is a member of the Roundtable on Sustainable Biofuels (RSB), which has developed  the most comprehensive sustainability standards for biofuels
  • IATA believes a three to six percent share of sustainable second generation biojet fuel is achievable by 2020 (for comparison: the EU’s Biofuels Flightpath target is a share of about 4% in 2020 in Europe)

IATA’s Strategic Action Plan

Industry actions:

  • Produce an industry roadmap highlighting best practice for technology adoption, policy and regulation, economics, sustainability and accounting standards
  • Consolidate aviation business case 
  • Facilitate debt, attract key personnel and assist in de-risking projects  to build up biojet fuel production facilities
  • Encourage the construction of demonstration plants as a first step towards large-scale industrial deployment
  • Make use of synergies with automotive biofuel production or other by-products of value

Role of governments:

  •  Adopt globally recognized sustainability standards
  • Allow biojet fuel to compete on equal basis with land transport through equivalent public incentives
  • Encourage user-friendly biofuel accounting methods
  • Support biojet R&D and demonstration plants
  • De-risk investments into biojet production plants
  • Engage in public-private partnerships for biojet fuel production
  • Pursue a harmonized transport and energy policy 
  • Commit to policy certainty or at a minimum policy timeframes need to match investment timeframes

Updated: December 2013


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