Case Study

Boeing invests research into advanced-generation biofuels

Environmental Sustainable fuels

As part of industry-wide efforts on aviation biofuel research, Boeing established the Sustainable Biomass Consortium with the Swiss-based École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne. The aim is to partner with academic researchers, refiners, aerospace companies, environmental organisations and governments round the globe to establish standards for sustainable aviation biofuels produced from renewable resources that do not compete with food crops for land or water: advanced-generation biofuels.

Extensive research by Boeing and partners across the industry have identified early feedstock candidates for producing aviation biofuels. For example, studies of the “biomass” – plant (and sometimes animal) material used to produce the biofuel – have shown that Jatropha Circus  (an inedible oil-producing plant)  has the potential to be price-competitive with fossil fuel in just a few years if produced in a sustainable manner. It can also deliver strong environmental and socio-economic benefits by advancing the economic development of countries that haven’t developed agricultural systems for the large-scale production of food, but have areas of land and water that are well suited for biomass production. Over the near-term, such projects will be developed in China, Africa, Latin America, Mexico and Australasia to examine the potential benefits of developing advanced-generation biofuel based on jatropha.

Other feedstock candidates include camelina, a cereal crop grown in rotation with wheat, halophytes, a species of saltwater-tolerantmarsh grasses and other saline habitat species; and also algae. 

Boeing is also a founding member of the Sustainable Aviation Fuel Users Group, the Commercial Aviation Alternative Fuels Initiative and sponsors the Algal Biomass Organization, whose mission is to promote the development of sustainable energy products derived from algae. All will play a vital role in exploring multiple processes and biomass sources for the regional production of sustainable aviation biofuels.

Research from analysis company Bloomberg New Energy Finance, forecasts that the cost of some biofuels – such as those based on non-food vegetable oils – could be close to that of conventional jet fuel by 2018, if production efficiency continues to improve.