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Biofuels Taking Flight

Among all the means of transportation available for long-distance travel, airplanes, though fastest, are definitely the worst in terms of total carbon emissions. A typical aircraft produces about 244 pounds of carbon dioxide each mile it flies. With an average of 218 passengers per flight, that works out to a little over 1 pound of carbon dioxide per passenger per mile in the air.

Facing this assessment, both plane manufacturers and airlines are looking into redesigning aircraft to make them more energy efficient while also developing new waste management policies and processes to reduce the impact of air travel on the environment.

One of the most recent achievements has come from Air Canada on a flight from Montreal to London. The flight, by an Airbus A330 plane carrying Canadian Athletes to the Olympic Games, was powered by a 50/50 mix of regular jet fuel and biofuel derived from recycled cooking oil. After running a similar 50% biofuel test flight between Toronto and Mexico City on an Airbus A319 earlier this year, Air Canada expected to lower its carbon emissions for the trip by 40%, making it the “most environmentally-friendly flight ever flown by Air Canada” according to an official company statement. The flight’s reduced environmental impact was supported with other actions too, including installation of lightweight cabin equipment, lightweight carpets and the usage of tablet computers instead of the usual operational paperwork by the crew. The president of Airbus has stated that in order to make biofuel-powered flights commercially viable “it now requires political will to foster incentives to scale up the use of sustainable biofuels and accelerate modernization of the air traffic management system.”

Not to be outdone, Boeing is also getting in on the game. Partnering with the Commercial Aircraft Corporation of China, they are looking at turning used cooking oil into biofuel for their aircraft. With passenger air traffic expected to reach 1.5 billion passengers a year by 2030, Chine is an ideal place to get a head start on more sustainable air travel methods.

This latest development in how companies build and manage airplanes is great news for environment protection and reducing climate change. We can only hope for further development of these initiatives with manufacturers and airlines across the globe.

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