The first section of the paper focuses on a background or historical context of algae derived fuels for aviation. It was found that the technology is relatively new. Tests have been done by several aviation firms but no fleet is powered by the fuel. After coverage of developments in the sector, the advantages and limitations of the fuel source were identified.
Advantages include low greenhouse emission, similarity to conventional jet fuel and no competition with food. Limitations include poor commercialization, lack of incentives and costliness.
Thereafter, some recommendations were made on how to make this technology viable. They included private-public sector collaboration, improvement of the production process, government investment, sensitization of the masses and mobilization of stakeholders for standardization.
Concerns about the rate of green house gas emissions necessitate the shift to more sustainable fuels. have been suggested as possible solutions to this problem. However, most producers are still at the research phase of the product life cycle. It is, therefore, necessary to analyze the past and present trends in order to identify future possibilities.
The study involved secondary research where journals, books and newspaper reports on the subject matter were collected. In this analysis the need for using the fuel was one of the topics identified. Furthermore, a historical analysis of the development of this fuel in the aviation industry was done.
Thereafter, some articles were collected on adoption of the fuel in various industries presently. The disadvantages and advantages of the fuel were examined. Finally, an analysis of findings was done in order to make a forecast on future developments.
The aviation industry is one of heaviest sources of pollution in the world. Statistics indicate that for every fifty units of on the earth, one unit will come from the aviation sector. This number may increase to 1.5 units in the next half a century. Consequently, sustainable and effective ways of dealing with this high carbon footprint are necessary.
Numerous scientists have already responded to this need through a myriad of innovations. Some of them have suggested the use of biodiesel, but its propensity to solidify in cold conditions makes it untenable (Shirvani et al. 2011). Others have suggested the use of FT SPK, which involves the use of solid biomass to generate oil through a process known as pyrolysis.
The product is then transformed into the synthetic paraffinic form of kerosene that is used in airplanes. The major problem with this approach is that it is quite resource consuming. Firms also have the option of using oil from algae in order to create synthetic kerosene through a process of hydro processing (Agricultural Research and Cooperative Extension 2012). The latter approach is the focus of the paper.
Algae-derived fuels have gained popularity in the late 2000s. However, most research on them started in the 1990s. During the year 2008, several aviation stakeholders such as the Boeing, Virgin Atlantic, and Air New Zealand formed the Algal Biomass Organization. In January 2009, Continental Airlines tested the first commercial jet using a blend of algae-derived fuels.
At the time, a 50-50 combination of the conventional fuel and algae biofuel was used (Kyriakos 2012). In July 2010, the first plane to be powered by 100% algae-derived biofuel was flown by Airbus maker-EADS. The demonstration was done in Berlin and then England. It was found that the fuel was more efficient than the conventional ones. About fifty percent less fuel was needed compared to a petroleum-derived fuel.
Even the unwanted emissions were drastically reduced. The company estimated that eight times as much greenhouse gases are produced by conventionally-powered aircrafts. In September 2010, Exelon Corporation worked on a new method of algae production that could be sustained even during cold temperatures.
In June 2011, Honeywell, which specializes in the production of jet fuel from algae, tested a Gulftstream jet using a blend of the algae fuel as well as petrol in an equal ratio. The aircraft belonged to the US military and thus demonstrated that this government had faith in the possibilities of the fuel. Even the Navy in the US powered a helicopter for the first time with a blend of algae biofuel.
It was reported that the aircraft was just as efficient as a conventionally-powered aircraft (Goldenberg 2010|). During the month of October, an organization known as Pond Biofeuls Inc. found a way of growing algae from cement plant emissions. However, the quantities were still minimal in number.
In November 2011, another Aircraft departed from a city in the US (Houston) to another Chicago. In the first month of 2012, an organization known as VG Energy discovered a new method of producing algae that could increase the amount of oil that it produces by 700%.
Current uses (benefits and limitations)
The most promising aspect of algae-derived biofuel is their environmental sustainability. Aviation companies that belong to sustainability associations often have to follow certain criteria before adopting a fuel as an alternative. The source of the fuel should not cause pressure in food production.
Oils derived from corn or other food products are deemed unsustainable because they lead to competition between humans who need the seed for food and those who want to make fuel out of it (Scott et al. 2010). Algae-derived fuels do not threaten food production because human beings do not eat algae. In addition to competition for food, the plant source of the biofuel ought not to use up land for farming.
If a plant needs to be grown in the same way as other food crops, then it may use up a lot of land and prompt residents to practice deforestation. Once again, algae-derived biofuels do not have this quality because they are not grown on land. Most of them can be cultivated in salty water or even polluted water, yet they can yield as much as two hundred percent more oil than soybeans.
Therefore, they will not cause depletion of natural resources like forests or water. Lastly, sustainable fuel should not lead to high amounts of carbon emissions in the air.
The carbon lifecycle of the product needs to reduce greenhouse gases in the atmosphere; otherwise, the fuel would not be environmental friendly. This trait is quite true for the fuels from algae; it minimizes the availability of greenhouse gases by 50% (MIT 2012).
In order to use a substance as a sustainable fuel, it must possess certain chemical characteristics that make it suitable for this purpose. The chemical composition of the product should allow it to be mixed with normal fuel for use. Jet fuel ought to have high tolerance for extremely hot and cold weather; this is true for algae-derived fuels.
That requirement means that automotive derived alternatives cannot be suitable for aviation. The algae-derived fuels clearly fit this description. The sustainable fuels also need to be similar to conventional jet fuels in order to minimize the need for aircraft adaptation of the engines, which is another quality that the fuel under analysis possesses.
Despite these tests, even on commercial airlines, most companies are yet to as a reliable source of fuel. In fact, most research organizations are still working on ways of producing the algae at a large scale. Most organizations working on the technology are in educational or research institutions.
The University of London and Cambridge are some of the many institutions researching on sustainable mechanisms for producing algae. Therefore, the reliability of the fuel is still questionable.
For effective use of the technology, aviation companies need to take advantage of incentives offered for use of an alternative fuel. Currently, some governments have given their aviation companies reprieve by providing incentives. In the United States, the government has passed a law that allows aviation firms to buy alternative fuels, , at fair prices.
These benefits are accorded to members of the Renewable Fuel Standard group. However, several other countries do not possess such incentives thus making it difficult to try out algae fuels (Hartman 2008).
The nature of business is also minimizing the adoption of this fuel commercially. Using biofuels in aircrafts is an expensive practice because one has to pay more per unit of fuel consumed. These high prices have dampened demand for the product. Investors, in turn, have avoided the product because it may be considered as a high-risk venture.
Furthermore, whenever a technology is in its early stages of discovery, many investors tend to refrain from it until it picks up. Government bodies can come in and provide incentives for the use of the product. However, because only a small portion of these subsidies and deductions exist in aviation, then adoption of the technology may take long (Yang et al. 2010).
Politics will play a large role in the adoption and use of algae-derived biofuels. The international business environment is not suitable for the use of these fuels unless governments step in and change the way things are done. Governments can collaborate with other sustainably oriented countries in order to create standards for the use of algae-derived fuels.
The European Union has already started working on this aspect. Other countries, including Australia need to follow suit; otherwise, the adoption of the technology will continue to take too long. Additionally, governments can create incentives for the use of these fuels, and that would encourage more companies to use it. Governments also have the power to invest in this emerging technology.
They can empower businesses who may want to start with demonstration plants. Governments should try as much possible to as other fuels used on land transport.
That would imply that the product is being taken seriously. People would invest in it and thus develop it. As the case is now, people still think of the technology as a reserve for wealthy aviation firms with extra amounts of money to spare (Greenwell 2010).
Conventional jet fuel is sourced from firms that have well established production facilities. Since these companies have been in the industry for so long, they often take advantage of economies of scale and thus make their products affordable. Furthermore, they are easily accessible to aviation firms because they have an expansive distribution network.
However, this is not true for algae-derived products. Few companies have large production facilities that can accommodate an increase in demand. Additionally, these organizations do not have a vast distribution network thus making it difficult for customers to rely on their prompt response when in need of fuel.
In order to match current demand levels of conventional jet fuels, companies should invest as much as $15 billion dollars in the new technology. Clearly, this is a large sum of money and few companies are yet to make such a commitment. Few partnerships exist between the government and public sector thus implying that all the opportunities available for the development of this technology are not being exploited fully (Teixera 2012).