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Photo: Illustration: Marco Melgrati

Aviation

Time for aviation biofuel to take off

Producing biofuel requires major investments. The aviation fuel market is also pretty small compared to other forms of transport. However, some companies are making such investments. SAS is a customer of Air BP, the largest supplier of aviation fuel – and now also biofuel.

Biofuel has been a contentious issue in 2018, not least within the EU. Many voices want to have their say on fuel that many people see as the solution to our major environment problems. If we compare biofuel, or biojet as it is also called in the industry, with “ordinary” aviation fuel, biofuel is clearly better for the environment. However, substantial investments are required to produce it and it is still a far more expensive alternative.

Thorbjörn Larsson, General Manager, Air BP Nordics, believes we will have a wide mix of renewable biofuel in our aircraft within 20 years. Air BP is the leading aviation fuel supplier, the leader within biofuel and the biggest supplier of aviation fuel to SAS. They introduced biofuel commercially in as early as 2014, and in 2016, SAS and other airlines entered into the fray.
“We’re convinced that aviation will need biofuel to meet the set climate targets. We need many more manufacturing facilities to produce the amount of bio­fuel that will be needed,” says Thorbjörn Larsson, General Man­ager at Air BP Nordics. Because biofuel for aviation is a pretty new concept, there is only a small number of suppliers in ­Europe and the US today, although several biodiesel producers are also planning to manufacture biojet.

“We have invested in companies that produce biojet or are planning to produce it and we’re also planning to manu­facture it at our own production sites,” Larsson says. “It takes time to gain all the ap­provals and start production, partly because aviation has very strict safety rules. It’s reassuring to know as a passenger that no risks are taken and that exhaustive testing is done before a new fuel can be certified,” Larsson adds.

 “Airline companies and the aviation industry are demanding this fuel to be able to achieve important climate targets. As a supplier, Air BP has also set targets to reduce its climate impact,” says Larsson.
“We can go some way towards achieving the targets with more efficient engines and better ways of flying, but we also need to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from the fuel itself. This is where we see a future and have therefore chosen to invest here. We want to help our customers, such as SAS, to be able to use an aviation fuel that has less environmental impact.”

Compared with other forms of transport, the aviation fuel market is small. Seen from the outside, it can look like it’s an uphill task for airlines, although Larsson remains upbeat.
“New things are always exciting and when we see big opportunities like these, it’s easy to get motivated. I am very committed to environmental issues as a person – and this is a combination of environmental commitment and an exciting business opportunity that is a pure win-win.”

What can get me down is when it takes time and we’re not able to produce as many products as the market is demanding. But we’re confident that the situation is improving,” says Larsson.

Norway is leading the way in this respect, being the first to push through targets. From next year, suppliers there will be required to have a percentage of biofuel mixed into aviation fuel. So there are positive changes already. Others are likely to follow.
“In Sweden, we not only think a requirement would be good, we would also like to see models that include subsidies and incentives for biofuel. A carrot as well as a stick,” he adds.

“There are good opportunities in Sweden and the Nordic region to produce biofuel for aviation locally,” adds ­Larsson.  “That would be a win-win all round – for the climate, for those of us living here and also for the economy. There are opportunities to create an industry and many jobs related to biofuel for aviation.” 

Last edited: September 3, 2018

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