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The Dutch carrier has enlisted help from corporates and NGOs as it pushes the envelope on sustainable fuels
KLM recognised that sustainability would be an issue with biofuels from its demonstration flight in 2009, says Fokko Kroesen corporate manager for environmental strategy. The Dutch carrier set up a joint venture, SkyNRG, to source biofuels that meet strict sustainability criteria, including for food security and biodiversity. SkyNRG is building an independent sustainability index to help pick the right supply chains.
The company, which was listed number one airline in the Dow Jones Sustainability Index for the eleventh consecutive year, is advised by an independent board made up of WWF in the Netherlands; social justice charity Solidaridad; and Energy Academy Europe, which focuses on research and education for the transition from fossil fuels.
Since early 2016 300 KLM flights from Los Angeles have been powered with a biofuel made from used cooking oil in a 30:70 blend with conventional jet fuel. This is produced by California-based AltAir Fuels at its retrofitted refinery. Kroesen anticipates that will reach 500 flights this year.
KLM has also trialled a biofuel blend made from the oilseed plant Camelina, grown in semi-arid regions of Spain, and developed as part of an EU-funded project. This powered 83 flights between Oslo and Amsterdam last year. Engine performance improved, while the cleaner fuel reduced sulphur and particulate emissions.
Oslo and Los Angeles airports are the first hubs in the world to offer biofuels through the normal hydrant system for refuelling. KLM and its partners Schipol airport, Port of Rotterdam, Neste Oil and SkyNRG are now trying to create a hub at Schipol.
Kroesen is clear that in the mid- to long-term the aviation industry is going to depend on biofuels to meet its ambitions on carbon reduction. Although prices are coming down, policy support is badly needed to drive investment. Of EU member states, only the Netherlands includes aviation biofuels under the provisions of the Renewable Energy Directive, which binds the transport sector to producing 10% renewable energy.
But this is not enough, asserts Kroesen. Aviation is competing with road transport for the same raw materials. The EU, he argues, needs to encourage financial incentives for the uptake of technologies where they are most applicable. “The scarce feedstocks for sustainable biofuels should be allocated to the sectors that depend on it.”
With a lack of EU support, KLM has turned to business. Its corporate biofuels programme has 11 investment partners, including ABN Amro, Heineken, and Nike as well as the Dutch Ministry of Infrastructure and Environment. The idea is that they each pay a surcharge, which covers the difference in cost between the biofuel and kerosene. In return, the companies cut their CO2 emissions from business travel and help stimulate the industry.
This article is part of our sustainable transport briefing. See also:
Aviation fuel KLM biofuels sustainable fuels transport logistics