Boeing today announced that it will begin to deliver commercial airplanes capable of flying using 100% biofuel, or sustainable aviation fuel, by 2030.
In order to power aircraft with biofuel, or fuel derived from living matter, Boeing will need to work with engine makers and change its aircraft systems, and also achieve safety certification by global regulators.
The International Air Transport Association has a goal of cutting carbon emissions to half of 2005 levels by 2050, so Boeing’s biofuel target is 2030, as jetliners typically stay in service for around 20 years.
Commercial flying currently accounts for about 2% of all carbon dioxide emissions and about 12% of all transport emissions, according to the Air Transport Action Group. Around 80% of aviation emissions are emitted from flights of over 932 miles (1,500 kilometers), for which there is no practical alternative mode of transport.
Boeing has successfully flown using 100% biofuel before. In May 2018, it achieved the world’s first commercial airplane flight from Seattle to Memphis round-trip using 100% biofuel on a FedEx Corp 777 freighter. Check it out, and how the flight came about, in this video from Seattle TV station King 5:
Biofuels are already mixed with conventional jet fuel up to a 50/50 blend, which is the maximum allowed under current fuel specifications. That will have to be adjusted to allow for the biofuel increase.
Biofuels are produced from ‘bio-based feedstock’ like agricultural and forestry residues, chicken tallow, and cooking oils.
Biofuel’s benefits can be negated if land must be cleared of vegetation to grow crops used to produce biofuel, according to the US Energy Information Administration. However, IATA says sustainable fuel, as it defines the term, cannot be produced from ‘anything that diverts land use from food crops, or destroys forests, or consumes too much fresh water, because that’s simply not sustainable.’
The globe’s carriers burned only about 18.9 million liters (5 million US gallons) of sustainable fuel in 2019 – less than one-tenth of a percent of the 364 billion liters burned by all airlines.
Boeing director of sustainability strategy Sean Newsum says of the company’s timeline:
Sometime in the 2030s and 2040s, when we are accelerating the use of sustainable fuels, and the volumes get to be large, we want to make sure the airplanes in the global fleet are not inhibiting the global sustainable fuel adoption.
We will be sharing progress as we go. We don’t have any of the specific steps or timelines we ready to state right now.