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Wednesday, 22 June 2011

"McDonald’s" proudly presents: The ‘McPlane’! International aviation company KLM Royal Dutch Airlines is starting flights on used cooking oil.

The Arabian Spring emphasized once more to countries and multinationals, that these should get less dependent on fossil fuels, coming from the OPEC countries and Russia. Instead, they should invest into other, preferably ‘greener’ fuels.

The KLM, the Royal Dutch Airliner ran the gauntlet and came up with a rather original and non-polluting, but small-scale solution: air planes flying on used cooking oil. When the oil, in this case coming from American fast-food restaurants,  is refined through a chemical process, the result is a high-grade bio kerosene that meets all international standards for aircraft fuel. After a number of test flights, the trust of the company in this biofuel is so large that KLM started with commercial flights, running on biofuel.

Here is a press release from KLM on this topic, of which I show the pertinent snips:

KLM Royal Dutch Airlines has taken another important step in aviation sustainability. In September KLM will launch more than 200 flights being operated on biokerosene between Amsterdam and Paris. “KLM has once again shown it is stimulating the development of biokerosene”, according to managing director Camiel Eurlings. “In November 2009 we demonstrated that it was technically possible to fly on biokerosene. Now, a year and a half after our first demonstration flight on Camelina, a new phase has been entered around the world, that of certification. Authorisation will soon be granted to operate commercial flights on biofuel. I am especially proud to announce that KLM will take this substantial step in September”.

The flights will be operated on biofuel made from Used Cooking Oil. KLM is open to using different raw materials for the end product, as long as they meet a range of sustainability criteria, including substantial reductions in CO2 emissions and minimum negative impact on biodiversity and food supply. All biofuels used by KLM also have to meet precisely the same technical specifications as traditional kerosene and must not require any adjustments to aircraft engines or infrastructure.  
The fuel is produced by Dynamic Fuels and supplied by SkyNRG, the consortium launched by KLM and North Sea Group and Spring Associates in 2009. SkyNRG is actively developing a sustainable production chain for aviation biofuels. The sustainability of alternative kerosene depends on many factors and is assessed on a case-by-case basis. In order to be able in future to reach the right decisions in this area, SkyNRG is advised by an independent Sustainability Board, consisting of the Dutch wing of the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), Solidaridad, and the Copernicus Institute of the University of Utrecht. A positive recommendation from the Sustainability Board carries a lot of weight for KLM.
Although it is theoretically a promising step to use aircraft fuel based on used cooking oil, the impact of this is, in reality, very small.
To give you an impression: KLM has 21,000,000 passengers annually and flies an estimated 85.000 flights per year (my estimate). This means that only 0.23% of the KLM flights will be executed on biokerosene: this story sounds therefore more as a marketing stunt, than as a  real breakthrough in aviation history.

I have calculated that, when 600,000 restaurants worldwide would collect 2.5  gallons of used cooking oil per day(!), this is only enough to fuel about 2.5% of the American flights annually. This is to put the influence of this kind of biofuel in perspective.

On the other hand: you can say that all little bits help to make the environment a little greener.
But alas, this is indeed nothing more than a little bit… and a marketing stunt.

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