Avid SBFF readers will remember last week’s article, “Alternative Jet Fuels Tackle Rising Aviation Emissions,” which referenced the U.S. Navy, Advanced Biofuels USA, European airlines KLM and Lufthansa, and Virgin Atlantic increasing their use of bio-based jet fuel. Just a few days after publication, U.S. airline JetBlue joined the group, with one of the biggest deals to date.

JetBlue’s deal is with Philadelphia-based bioenergy company SG Preston. The airline has pledged to purchase 330 million gallons of sustainable jet fuel over a period of ten years, which they estimate will account for around four percent of their total fuel use. JetBlue President and CEO Robin Hayes said, “The future of aviation relies in part on renewable energy sources.”

Reducing Petroleum Use and Greenhouse Gas Emissions

JetBlue will be using the biofuel to fill up planes at JFK airport in New York City. This will be the second major U.S. airport to distribute biofuels to commercial flights, as United Airlines and KLM fuel up with biofuels at LAX in Los Angeles. United is part of a three-year deal with AltAir Paramount LLC to purchase 15 million gallons of biofuels.

The fuel for JetBlue’s planes, which they will begin using in 2019, will be a mix of 30 percent biofuel and 70 percent traditional jet kerosene. The biofuels used produce around 50 percent fewer greenhouse gas emissions than the kerosene. Sophia Mendelsohn, head of sustainability at JetBlue, said, “It’s thinking long term about our biggest cost, but its primary motivation is to reduce our greenhouse gases. What we really want to do is jump-start the industry and quite frankly enable all airlines, very much ourselves included, to diversify our fuel supply.”

Overcoming Costs

Low oil prices have made it more difficult for bio-based jet fuels to be cost competitive for airlines. However, long-term deals, like the one JetBlue just signed up for, help biofuels manufacturers by providing certainty. “JetBlue and contracts like JetBlue’s offer us a completion to our overall credit profile for building these facilities,” said Randy Delbert LeTang, chief executive of SG Preston. SG Preston plans to build a plant in Ohio to produce the jet fuel, as well as biodiesel.

Airlines may be motivated to pay extra now in order to get ahead of expected emissions regulations, both nationally and internationally. Mendelsohn said this was a motivator for JetBlue: “We are not going to sit around and wait for a legislator to tell us we have to buy a certain type of fuel that doesn’t exist on the market yet. We have to be proactive.”

The International Civil Aviation Organization will be meeting next week to finalize a proposed global market-based measure that would reduce global aviation emissions. U.S. EPA is expected to begin crafting regulations for national aviation emissions, having released an aircraft endangerment finding earlier this summer.

Author: Rebecca Chillrud

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