Wageningen University and airline Arke to work together on sustainable jet fuel

The airline Arke and Wageningen UR (University & Research centre) have joined forces to work on developing sustainable jet fuel derived from algae. Microalgae have great potential for producing sustainable biofuels, such as biokerosene, to meet the future fuel requirements of the aviation industry. For the next six months, Wageningen UR will be conducting research into the techno-economic feasibility of algae-based biofuels for aircraft. This research has been commissioned by Arke and is co-funded by the Centre for Biobased Economy (CBBE).

Microalgae have many advantages over other biomass currently used to produce biofuels. Depending on the type of algae and cultivation method, each hectare of microalgae produces huge yields of oil, carbohydrates and proteins. CO2 residue from flue gas and nutrients from waste water are used to grow algae. Furthermore, algae can be cultivated in places that are unsuitable for agriculture and in seawater, which means that they are not competing with food production for locations.

Making aviation more sustainable

The aviation industry needs a climate-neutral, sustainable alternative to kerosene to make flying more sustainable in the long term. Arke, the airline of TUI Nederland, has therefore asked Wageningen UR to investigate the possibilities of producing biokerosene from microalgae. If biokerosene proves to be a techno-economically feasible and competitive alternative to the type of kerosene currently in use, Arke aims to start producing and using it as jet fuel on a major scale. Casper Maasdam, Director External Affairs & Development at Arke: “Arke is working hard to become the airline with the lowest CO2 emission per passenger per kilometre in the Netherlands (and one of the lowest in the world) by 2015. To achieve this, we are improving our flight procedures, modernising our air fleet, trying to save weight and working alongside Wageningen UR to develop sustainable jet fuel.” TUI Nederland has been following a strategy for sustainable tourism and corporate social responsibility since 1998. Ten years ago, ROBINSON, part of TUI Nederland, was the first tour operator in the world to integrate a contribution to CO2 compensation into its price deals, in association with GreenSeat. ROBINSON can now claim another global first by incorporating a contribution for biofuels. As from the summer of 2014, ROBINSON will be contributing to both GreenSeat climate projects and AlgaePARC, and therefore helping in the search for short and long-term solutions to the climate problem.

Unique AlgaePARC research facility

This research into the possibility of deriving jet fuel from microalgae is unique in Europe. Wageningen UR opened AlgaePARC in 2011 as a facility designed specifically for research into producing chemicals and fuels from microalgae. The Wageningen UR BioProcess Engineering Group and research institute Food & Biobased Research have built up a prestigious reputation in the field of algae research on the basis of research carried out in these facilities. Wageningen UR uses AlgaePARC to cultivate and harvest microalgae on a pilot scale for further processing, and to study potential applications for microalgae. They also try to identify the best methods and environments for growing and harvesting algae. The Centre for Biobased Economy (CBBE), a cooperation project that brings together education, research and innovation in the field of the biobased economy, is co-funding this research project.

Research into economic feasibility, sustainability and by-products

One of the main challenges facing the profitable production of biofuels from algae is finding a way to cut the costs by a factor of ten or more. In order to achieve this cost reduction, scientists must be able to derive other by-products (such as proteins) from the algae, alongside making the obvious technological developments. Biorefinery, a process whereby multiple ingredients from biomass are put to sustainable use, has great potential in this respect and needs further investigation. Wageningen UR will also explore the economic aspects of biokerosene derived from algae by means of benchmarking with current jet fuels, devising and evaluating business models and identifying partners for the development process. Finally, the sustainability aspects will be analysed: the CO2 savings in particular, but water and energy consumption will also be taken into account. Once the research findings are complete, a route map and programme will be designed for researching, developing and demonstrating large-scale biokerosene production from algae with the right specifications and at competitive prices.

Source: Wageningen University