Unlike other fuel users, which have renewable energy options such as wind, solar, or water-powered energy, almost all (93%) of transportation fuel comes from petroleum. Petroleum is a finite resource, and the process of extracting crude oil and then burning petroleum is a major contributor to climate change. Biofuel research is an important step towards freedom from fossil fuels in an industry with few other options.
Although several countries and companies are pursuing the use of biological sources for jet fuel, Mexico is emerging as a major player. Boeing, Areomexico, and Mexico’s Airports and Auxiliary Services, announced last year that they are all planning to collaborate with a biojet program in hopes of advancing the research and development of biofuel and sustainable aviation in Mexico.
Mexico’s Sector Fund for Energy Sustainability, (SENER-CONACYT) is helping to coordinate and fund the program along with the Mexican Bioenergy Innovation Center. They are looking to support Mexico’s aviation industry as well as further global environmental goals and local economic stimulus and socio-economic goals.
“To support customers and the aviation industry’s long-term growth, Boeing is proud to partner with Aeromexico and many key stakeholders to move Mexico’s sustainable aviation biofuel industry forward,” said Marc Allen, president, Boeing International. “Sustainable jet fuel will play a critical role in reducing aviation’s carbon emissions and will bring a new and innovative industry to Mexico.”
“The success of these efforts would not be possible without the teamwork of Airports and Auxiliary Services (ASA) and our strategic partner Boeing,” said Sergio Allard, Chief of People & Industries Affairs Officer, Aeromexico. “They have been a fundamental part in projects like the first transcontinental biofuel flight in the history of world aviation performed in a Mexico-Madrid route, or the green flights between Mexico and Costa Rica. In Aeromexico, we recognize that conducting a sustainable operation is an everyday commitment. We are ready to assume the challenge and break the myth that you cannot be socially and environmentally responsible and competitive at the same time.”
“In Airports and Auxiliary Services, we are keen to play an active role in implementing this biofuel project, contributing our experience to ensure that the results of this initiative are suitable at Mexico’s airports,” said Jorge Nevarez Jacobo, ASA Business Units Coordinator. “We will participate in this development effort as it is being implemented.”
The government in Mexico and participating institutions, including The Masdar Institute of Science and Technology in United Arab Emirates, and the U.S. Joint BioEnergy Institute, will fund this effort for several years, with an eye towards developing a self-sustaining business model within four years. They hope to become self sustaining by conducting research on biomass sourcing, fuel production, sustainability and lifecycle assessment, and also development of biofuel for the aviation market.
The feedstocks to source the biofuels are currently anticipated to be jatropha, which is a hardy genus of flowering plants in the spurge family, Euphorbiaceae, that is abundant in Mexico’s Yucatan. Its leaves are poisonous, and so are the small football-shaped fruit pods it produces. Crush the little black seeds inside the fruit pods, and you get a surprising amount of oil. That oil is good for burning in lamps or making into soaps, or…converting into diesel fuel. Salicornia is also under research, being a salt-tolerant genus of succulent that grow in salt marshes and on beaches. Salicornia is sometimes found in food stores or restaurants as “sea beans”. Sewage sludge is also an anticipated feedstock to be researched.
Using sustainably produced biofuel reduces lifecycle carbon dioxide emissions by 50 to 80 percent compared to conventional petroleum fuel, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. As part of Boeing’s commitment to protect the environment and support long-term sustainable growth for commercial aviation, the company has active biofuel projects on six continents, including in the U.S., Australia, Brazil, China, Europe, Middle East, South Africa and Southeast Asia.