GENEVA, Dec 13 (Bernama) -- With sources of fossil fuel more difficult to find and the likelihood of crude oil prices staying relatively high, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) is pushing for greater production and use of sustainable biofuels.
"We need them to become a commercial reality," said Tony Tyler, IATA's Director-General and Chief Executive Officer, when advocating greater research into sustainable fuel source at the association's recent Global Media Day here.
Sustainable biofuels, he said, were crucial in helping to achieve the climate change targets.
Some airlines are already trying them out in commercial flights. Virgin Galactic was the first airline to fly with biofuel when its Boeing 747-400 flew from London to Amsterdam on Feb 28, 2008, carrying in one of its four fuel tanks 20 per cent of biofuel.
Last month, United Continental flew an aircraft between Houston and Chicago on a fuel mix of 60 per cent jet fuel and 40 per cent algae-based biofuel.
Alaska Airlines has also started operating flights using a mix of 80 per cent conventional jet fuel and 20 per cent biofuel derived from used cooking oil or fast-food restaurant discards.
Tyler said biofuels were currently too expensive and too scarce for them to be successful commercially.
To overcome this obstacle, he said, governments needed to foster research into new energy sources and refining processes.
In recent times, algae has emerged as potentially the most promising feedstock for producing large quantities of sustainable aviation biofuel.
These microscopic plants can be grown in polluted or salt water, deserts and other inhospitable places.
They thrive on carbon dioxide, which makes them ideal for carbon capture (absorbing carbon dioxide) from sources like factories.
One of the biggest advantages of algae for oil production is the speed at which the feed stock can grow.
It has been estimated that algae produces up to 15 times more oil per sq km than other biofuel crops.
Another advantage of algae is that it can be grown on marginal lands that are not used for growing food, such as on the edges of deserts.
Meanwhile, the Malaysian government has approved grants for research into algae as a source for aviation fuel.
The Aerospace Malaysia Innovation Centre, under the auspices of the Malaysian industry Government Group for High Technology, will spearhead the country's initiative to research and identify algae for producing aviation fuel.
Some RM15 million has already been approved for the industry-led research and technology centre for its first year of operation.
Universiti Putra Malaysia (UPM) has been appointed the lead university in the research which could lead to Malaysia establishing a major leadership role in global biofuel production for the aviation industry.
Other partners in the project are EADS, the producer of Airbus aircraft, and aircraft engine manufacturer Rolls Royce.
Datuk Dr Radin Omar, Vice Chancellor of UPM, said the university has a research station at Port Dickson, which would form part of the research initiative.
Speaking at UPM's Media Day in Kuala Lumpur on Monday, he said, the university was evaluating a number of proposals on the proposed venture, which would capitalise on the country's natural resources and knowledge in collaboration with foreign expertise.
Radin said UPM, as a major research university in Malaysia, would be stepping up research efforts, especially those which could create greater value and be commercially viable.
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