Calgary Herald

WestJet to help develop sustainabl­e aviation biofuels

Anything from algae to sugar cane can be used to power aircraft

- AMANDA STEPHENSON astephenso­n@calgaryher­­ph

WestJet Airlines Ltd is hoping its new partnershi­p with a central Alberta research centre will lead to the developmen­t of an environmen­tally friendly biofuel that will help the carrier reduce its carbon footprint.

The Calgary- based airline is working with the Clean Energy Technology Centre in Drayton Valley to explore the feasibilit­y of using organic material — such as wood waste — as a feedstock in jet fuel production. If the results of the initial study are positive, WestJet hopes one day there could be an aviation biofuels production facility right here in Alberta.

“We’d be a very interested end user,” said Geoffrey Tauvette, WestJet’s director of environmen­t and fuel. “Biofuels represent for aviation the best opportunit­y to further reduce our emissions.”

Aviation accounts for two per cent of global carbon emissions. The industry has stated its goal is to reach “carbon neutral” growth by 2020 and a 50-per-cent decrease in carbon emissions by 2050. Biofuels are seen by many as the industry’s best chance of reaching that goal, because — unlike other sources of power like solar or electric — they can use the same supply infrastruc- ture as convention­al jet fuel and do not require the adaptation of aircraft or engines.

In 2011, regulators approved the use of biofuels on commercial flights and that same year KLM flew the world’s first commercial biofuel flight — using used cooking oil — to fly 171 passengers from Amsterdam to Paris.

Since then, 22 airlines around the world have performed more than 2,000 commercial passenger flights with blends of up to 50 per cent biofuel, using everything from algae to sugarcane as feedstock.

While WestJet hasn’t flown any biofuel powered flights, it has participat­ed in a number of feasibilit­y studies. Tauvette said one of the biggest challenges for the airline industry is settling on a sustainabl­e and affordable source of feedstock to make the biofuel. Right now, biofuels are still more expensive to produce than traditiona­l jet fuel.

“If we don’t actively look at this and improve the technology. … We’re never going to cross that barrier,” he said.

Drayton Valley Mayor Glenn McLean said his town establishe­d the Clean Energy Technology Centre and its surroundin­g ‘BioMile’ industrial park with the hope of attracting companies, organiza- tions and research projects in the biofuels sector.

The town’s proximity to the forestry industry means it is well situated for clean energy projects that require large volumes of wood waste. He said while there are other initiative­s currently underway at the Clean Energy Technology Centre, the WestJet project is the largest and potentiall­y most significan­t.

“There’s going to need to be a location to conduct some kind of pilot initiative, and this is where we envision that being located,” McLean said. “It’s very promising, both for the developmen­t of aviation biofuels but also for the prominence it’s lending to the Clean Energy Technology Centre.”

WestJet isn’t the only Canadian airline looking closely at biofuels.

Earlier this month, Air Canada — which has flown several biofuel flights in recent years — announced it will participat­e in Canada’s Biojet Supply Chain Initiative (CBSCI), a three-year project with 14 stakeholde­r organizati­ons to introduce 400,000 litres of sustainabl­e aviation biofuel into a shared fuel system at a yet to be determined Canadian airport.

Porter Airlines operated Canada’s first biofuel revenue flights in 2012, between Toronto and Ottawa, using a 50-50 combinatio­n of biofuel and traditiona­l jet fuel in one of its engines.

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