With skyrocketing cost of Jet A1, is biofuel still considered an alternative to aviation kerosene? WOLE SHADARE asks
Virgin Atlantic lead the way
February 26, 2018 marks the 10th anniversary of the first demo flight on biofuel, which was executed by Virgin Atlantic.
Since that day, over 100,000 commercial flights have used low carbon fuels.
This is especially amazing since in 2006 when experts were told over and over that biofuel flight would never be possible commercially; with many saying, “we aren’t gonna fly anything other than kerosene”.
To date, the industry has focused on reducing greenhouse gases mainly by reducing overall fuel usage and increasing fuel efficiency through new plane technology and operational improvements.
Aviation fuel is central to the operations of an airline, as it constitutes between 35-40 per cent of an airline’s cost. The price of the commodity – laden with taxes – in the West African sub-region, is the highest in Africa.
Cost of Jet A1 in Nigeria
While the specialised fuel is sold for about $2.30 cents per gallon in Nigeria, $2.30 in Benin and $1.94 cents per gallon in Cameroon, it is sold for close to $3.14 cents in Ghana, which also produces oil. In Luanda, Angola (also an oil producing country), it costs $3.75 per gallon; Libreville $2.05 per gallon; Khartoum, Sudan $2.44 per gallon.
It is no longer news that aviation fuel, until recently, dealt a huge blow to the aviation industry in Nigeria. Aside the scarcity of the commodity, price of Jet A1 has also skyrocketed to an all-time high of between N220 and N260 per litre from N140 per litre that prevailed two yeara ago.
This situation is giving airline operators sleepless nights as Jet A1 gulps over 35 per cent of their revenue at a time fares have remained static or at best increased by less than five per cent, coupled low income of many Nigerians that have seriously affected the travel patterns of Nigerians.
Aviation fuel costs more in Nigeria and other oil producing countries than their counterparts that do not produce oil.
For instance, in Nigeria, despite the stability in the lifting of aviation fuel across the country and the deregulation of the commodity, JET A1 is considered very expensive.
Vice-President for Africa, International Air Transport Association (IATA), Raphael Kuuchi, said recently that on the average, they notice that fuel price is 21 per cent more expensive in Africa than the world average.
He lamented that in most of the oil producing countries; aviation fuel is mostly expensive, adding that it is baffling.
If airlines in the continent and particularly in Nigeria are groaning, isn’t it time for them to explore alternative to the reliance on Jet A1. Biofuel readily comes to mind as alternative source of energy for airlines, but how realistic is this for Nigerian carriers and the aviation industry in the country?
Nigeria is yet to develop the level where biofuel can be as alternative to the ethanol type of fuel considering that there are no research and preparation into that field of technology. If the airlines are to import biofuel, will it be cheaper than biofuels?
If the answer is in the contrary, it becomes nonsensical for the operators to rely on it. Would passengers be willing to travel by air if they find out that aircraft are being powered by fuel from plants or wood waste?
Making biofuels at large, commercial scale is difficult and dozens of companies have gone belly up trying. The logistics of securing a steady, cheap supply of whatever the fuel is to be made from can take years. Financing a plant is expensive because lenders know the risks and demand generous terms.
A sharp drop in the price of crude oil has made competing with traditional fuels on price more difficult. Aside the cost implications for carriers, airlines are seriously considering the option to reduce gas emission.
Aviation biofuel is a biofuel used for aircraft. It is considered by some to be the primary means by which the aviation industry can reduce its carbon footprint. After a multi-year technical review from aircraft makers, engine manufacturers and oil companies, biofuels were approved for commercial use in July 2011. Since then, some airlines have experimented with using of biofuels on commercial flights.
The focus of the industry has now turned to second generation sustainable biofuels (sustainable aviation fuels) that do not compete with food supplies nor are major consumers of prime agricultural land or fresh water.
Aviation biofuel is a biofuel used for aircraft. It is considered by some to be the primary means by which the aviation industry can reduce its carbon footprint. After a multi-year technical review from aircraft makers, engine manufacturers and oil companies, biofuels were approved for commercial use in July 2011. Since then, some airlines have experimented using biofuels on commercial flights.
African airlines take the plunge
How popular is this concept for African airlines? It’s no secret that commercial aviation is not all that great for the environment. And while some airlines are better than others in reducing their carbon footprint, advances in the industry have taken time. Hoping to do their part, South African Airways recently completed a flight using biofuels from nicotine-free, energy-rich “Solaris” tobacco plants cultivated by farmers in South Africa’s Limpopo Province, which borders Botswana, Zimbabwe and Mozambique.
The one-way flight, operated on July 15 from Johannesburg to Cape Town, carried 300 passengers and used 6,300 liters of biofuel. It is a turning point for Project Solaris, a partnership between biochemists Sunchem SA, jet-maker Boeing, fuel specialists SkyNRG and South African Airways.
“This is very significant as it proves we can use this biofuel,” Ian Cruickshank, South African Airways Group Environmental Affairs Specialist, said.
“It shows the industry is really changing. Four or five years ago biofuel was seen as futuristic, and today it’s here.”
The call for biofuels is resonating all over the globe, occasioned by the number of global fliers. It is expected to more than double in the next two decades. In order to carry all those extra passengers, airlines are turning to a technology a very few can make work on a large scale: converting trash into fuel.
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