While the basic principles of flight remain unchanged, the modern flying machine is technologically very far removed from the frail aeroplanes that took the first tentative flights at the beginning of the 20th century. And yet, for all that advance, the world’s only truly practical, load-carrying aircraft still rely on fossil fuel.
Modern engines burn fuel more efficiently, extracting greater energy from it and in the process generating fewer emissions. They increasingly burn other carbon-based fuels too, including alternative fuels produced by recycling or through biological process, but the chemistry of generating energy from fuel in a modern turbofan remains similar to that which governed the generation of energy from burning petroleum in the Wright Flyer engine of 1903.
It seems only sensible that over the next 115 years of powered flight, new technologies will all but oust fossil fuel, but replace it with what? Carbon-neutral, manufactured fuels? Electrical power? Those technologies, as they apply to regular, daily passenger operations are still decades away so, in the meantime, what’s to be done?
Carbon offset, working to neutralise carbon emissions generated when operators burn fossil fuel, is already working. Meanwhile, fuel suppliers are developing and offering alternative fuel sources and perhaps realise that, ultimately, they may become energy rather than fuel suppliers.
For now though, carbon and other emissions are an inevitable result of burning fossil fuel, not only in aircraft engines, but our cars, when we heat our homes, in industry, and on, and on. Looking to discover just how important environmental concerns really are to the fuel companies, EVA set Irene Lores, Global Marketing Director, General Aviation, Air BP and her colleague, Alisdair Clark, Air BP’s Research and Development Manager, a few questions.
Air BP has an extensive carbon offset programme – what is its aim? How does it work and does Air BP take into account all the carbon released during the production of fuel, from energy consumed during extraction, through the movement of crude, cracking, storage, delivery, refuelling and so on?
Lores: A carbon offset is a reduction in emissions of greenhouse gases made in order to compensate for, or ‘offset’, an emission made elsewhere. It works using a tradeable instrument called a ‘carbon credit’. One carbon credit equals one tonne of carbon emitted. So, if an individual or business emitting 10 tonnes of carbon a year wants to offset their emissions, they would need to buy ten carbon credits from a project or programme that has reduced carbon emissions by that amount. After the carbon credits are purchased, they are retired so they cannot be used again.
Carbon offset programmes can help our customers reduce their carbon emissions, achieve their carbon goals and meet important industry targets to reduce the environmental impact of global aviation. The carbon reduction projects from which Air BP sources credits are selected by the BP Target Neutral team. Every project in the Target Neutral portfolio complies with either the Verified Carbon Standard (VCS), Gold Standard or Clean Development Mechanism (CDM), all of which are approved under the International Carbon Reduction and Offset Alliance (ICROA) Code of Best Practice. These standards provide a methodology framework, an independent verification process and a registry to ensure emissions reductions are real, additional (that is, they would not have happened without the project), permanent and unique.
To calculate the emissions associated with jet fuel we use UK government Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (DEFRA) emissions factors. They takes into account all emission sources from well to wheel/wing, or from extraction to end use.
However, Air BP believes that decarbonisation in aviation can be driven through more efficient operations, better infrastructure, new technologies and low-carbon fuels, plus carbon offsetting where necessary.
A cynic might suggest Air BP’s offset programme is simply a means of encouraging environmentally concerned operators to purchase your fuel, while those who aren’t concerned will buy it anyway. How important is it to Air BP that its customers fly carbon neutral?
Lores: Air BP is committed to the aviation industry’s efforts to reduce its carbon emissions and wants to play a leading role in supporting customers’ ability to reduce their emissions and achieve the industry’s ambitious targets. Through our carbon offset programmes, we are supporting our customers in meeting their lower carbon goals, and those of their clients.
For example, as part of our strategic collaboration with Victor, one of the world’s leading on-demand marketplaces for private jet charters, we launched a carbon offset programme for private flying in April 2018. It allows participating aircraft operators to offer their customers carbon neutral flying when using Air BP fuel.
Air BP also offers carbon neutral flying to business aviation customers in Brazil, in collaboration with Avantto. It has teamed up with Signature Flight Support to enable all Air BP Sterling Card holders to purchase carbon neutral fuel at more than 100 of Signature’s US FBOs. In all instances, the offsetting is undertaken by BP Target Neutral.
Air BP is also reducing emissions in its own operations. For example, Air BP’s into-plane fuelling operations were independently certified carbon neutral in 2016. We’ve made a 10-year commitment to retaining our carbon neutral accreditation for into-plane operation. This requires Air BP to adhere to a carbon reduction plan, including the introduction of start/stop technology on refuelling vehicles and maximising the options for supplying biofuel. Any residual emissions following these reductions will be offset through BP Target Neutral.
Does Air BP work to help its customers use fuel as efficiently as possible? Have technologies been introduced to ensure fuel is burned more efficiently now than ever before?
Lores: Minimising processes, including tankering, is one area where we are working with aircraft operators to reduce carbon emissions. A reduction in tankering leads to greater aircraft fuel efficiency and therefore lower carbon emissions.
Clark: In relation to technology changes, Air BP plays a leading role in fuel technology through research and external technical groups, including the Co-ordinating Research Council, ASTM International and the Aviation Fuels Committee. These groups work on improving fuel quality for the current and future aircraft fleets. The aviation industry is working to ensure that modern passenger aircraft are more efficient than before.
This focus on aircraft efficiency relies upon an integrated aviation industry approach to jet fuel, jet engines and aircraft development, ensuring that specifications are well aligned and that jet fuel is available in any region of the world. A recent (2018) example of Air BP’s involvement is the approval of refinery technology to co-process waste vegetable oils to jet fuel and reduce carbon emissions. While Air BP technical work was necessary to achieve approval, the process is open to all industry members for the benefit of the aviation industry as a whole.
What about other combustion products? Are these at their lowest levels ever? To what extent does Air BP’s fuel rely on the latest engine technologies for clean consumption? How closely do the fuel suppliers work with the engine OEMs to achieve optimum fuel burn?
Clark: With respect to other combustion products, these are influenced by both engine and fuel technologies. The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) sets standards for aviation turbine engine exhaust emissions and international fuel specifications, the ASTM and Defence Standards for example, set limits on potential pollution precursors, including aromatics. Air BP has published work examining some aspects of this area, for example through the International Conference on Stability, Handling and Use of Liquid Fuels.
How does Air BP manage the popular image that goes with fuel production? As a society we’re led by media and government to see fossil fuel providers as environmental enemies, yet we’re all happy to drive cars, heat our homes and use electronic devices
Lores: There is a growing population hungry for access to heat, light and mobility, yet demanding that our industry deliver this access in new ways and with fewer emissions. At BP, we call this the dual challenge – providing the energy essential to human prosperity, while also reducing greenhouse gas emissions to meet society’s goals. In terms of aviation, Air BP is committed to providing the energy this growing industry needs, but we are looking for ways to reduce emissions for ourselves and our customers. Some of Air BP’s achievements to date include:
• Supplying BP Biojet in the Nordics since 2014 at around ten airports, including Oslo, where we were the first to supply sustainable aviation fuel through the hydrant
• In November 2016, BP announced an investment of $30 million in biojet producer Fulcrum BioEnergy. Fulcrum has developed and demonstrated a reliable and efficient process for producing low-cost, sustainable biojet from municipal solid waste. The first plant is under construction in Reno, Nevada. Compared to the production of traditional petroleum transportation fuel, Fulcrum’s process will reduce greenhouse gas emissions by more than 80%
• In October 2016, Air BP became the first aviation fuel supplier to achieve carbon neutrality for its into-plane fuelling services at in excess of 250 of its operated locations, and made a 10-year commitment to retaining the accreditation through adhering to a carbon reduction plan
It’s also worth noting that Air BP has been innovating, leading and investing in the aviation industry for more than 90 years and will continue doing just that. Additionally, our team of aviation fuel and services experts, with the capability of BP, a global energy business, will continue to support customers to be successful and meet their goals.
It’s possible to identify a handful of key milestones or technological step changes in aerospace design – will the next be fuel? What’s Air BP’s vision of the future?
Lores: We believe it’s unlikely that electric or other alternative engine types will be playing a significant role in commercial aviation by 2050, so the use of sustainable alternative fuels within conventional aircraft will likely make the biggest impact on carbon emissions in the immediate future. We will continue to work with the aviation industry to provide our customers with the energy they require to keep the world moving.
We believe that the ability to capture data and create insight for customers is likely to play a significant role in helping drive better aviation fuel management. As technology advances, we see digitalisation continuing to drive customer convenience, both at the airport and prior to arrival at the airport.
As the aviation industry continues to grow, we will need to work together to reduce its carbon impact and meet the emerging fuel demand from China, the US, India, Indonesia and Vietnam, as the top five growing aviation markets to 2035.