Published September 26, 2008 10:00 AM

Boeing, Virgin join group committed to biofuel for commercial jets

Boeing joined Virgin Atlantic Airways and eight other airlines this morning to pledge to speed up the development of sustainable, second-generation biofuels for use in the commercial aviation industry.

As members of the Sustainable Aviation Fuel Users Group, the aircraft maker and airlines will receive advice and support from both the World Wildlife Fund and the Natural Resources Defense Council.

"This task force comes at just the right time to help airlines cut costs and decrease their greenhouse gas emissions," said Liz Barratt-Brown, an NRDC senior attorney.

The group, which includes leading refining technology developer Honeywell's UOP, requires any biofuel used by its members to perform as well as or better than traditional jet fuel while leaving a smaller carbon footprint. Members also pledge to use only renewable fuel sources that require minimal land, water and energy to produce, and that do not compete with food or fresh water resources.

Billy Glover, managing director of environmental strategy for Boeing, said the effort will allow airlines to take control of their future fuel supply while curbing the industry's impact on the environment. "The number one priority going forward is to complete thorough assessments of sustainable plant sources, harvesting and economic impacts, and processing technologies that can help achieve that goal," he said in a statement.

The group has announced two initial sustainability research projects to judge the viability of two leading contenders for biomass-based renewable jet fuel: Jatropha curcas and algae. Members believe the two species have the potential to become large parts of a portfolio of renewable fuel alternatives that will help the industry diversify its fuel supply.

The eight other airlines in the group are Air France, Air New Zealand, ANA (All Nippon Airways), Cargolux, Gulf Air, Japan Airlines, KLM and SAS. In total, the nine airlines account for roughly 15 percent of commercial jet fuel use.

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