By Elton Alisson
Agência FAPESP – Technical certifications for biofuels used in aviation already exist, but according to specialists, there is still no sustainability license certifying that a given fuel obtained from biomass that proves to be a potential candidate for use in commercial aviation be produced according to a set of criteria, including good use of land biodiversity conservation and compliance with labor and environmental legislation.
Even though biofuels are derived from several different types of biomass that have been approved for use and these biofuels have even been used in demonstration flights and commercial flights, none of them are produced or sold on a large scale. This means that none of these biofuels have needed sustainability certification until now.
In anticipation of future development, a study carried out by the Institute for International Trade Negotiations (Icone) compared the main global biofuel certifications in existence today to identify possible bottlenecks that would slow implementation in Brazil, which is a global model for biofuels and home to a series of initiatives for green fuel production for aviation.
Financed by Boeing, Embraer and the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), the study analyzed the Bonsucro, Roundtable on Sustainable Biofuels (RBS) and International Sustainability & Carbon Certification (ISCC) certifications.
Adopted for biofuel certification for different applications, the three certifications could also be used to certify biojet fuels.
“Because biojet fuels still represent a very new market, there is no sustainability certification focused specifically on them. However, in general, today’s biofuel certifications would most likely work to certify biojet fuels because the production processes will not differ much,” said Paula Moura, one of the study’s authors, to Agência FAPESP.
According to the researcher, the study focused on technology developed by the North American company Amyris to produce biokerosene for aviation from sugarcane. Sugarcane is on the many biomass options used to produce biofuel.
Because Amyris’s technology has the potential to be used in large-scale development—and will therefore require a sustainability certificate—the researchers made a comparison between the standards adopted for the Bonsucro, RBS and ISCC certifications to evaluate the challenges the technology will face in the future to adopt these standards.
One of the main findings in the Icone study is that the sustainability standards of the three certifications are quite similar and based on compliance with current environmental legislation both at home and overseas. However, the main difference between the certifications has to do with additional criteria, which could interfere with producer growth and adherence.
European Union criteria
The additional criteria are related to the Renewable Energy Sources Directive announced by the European Union in 2010, which established a set of rules describing how certification for biofuel production in general should be implemented.
The European requirements state that the biofuels cannot be produced in forested areas, wetlands and other environmentally protected areas and that they make it possible to significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions compared with fossil fuels.
So that Brazilian producers may also meet these overseas requirements, Bonsucro—the only sugarcane-derived biofuel certification implemented in Brazil—included some of the EU’s requirements.
However, due to pressure from producers, the certification opted generally not to address or broach issues still under discussion and for which no well-defined methods for compliance have been defined. Among these issues are limits on the growth of production in highly valued conservation areas, indirect changes in land use and food safety.
Because RBS and ISCC have already adopted some of these criteria, Bonsucro would have an easier time implementing them in Brazil in the near term, according to the Icone study. “Most of the growers certified by Bonsucro are the large sugarcane growers who already have a series of other management and quality certifications but still do not have 100% certified production,” said Moura.
In her opinion, however, one of the main challenges in expanding the certification in the country will be to increase its reach and adherence by small- and medium-sized producers and third-party sugarcane suppliers, which have a harder time meeting Brazilian labor and environmental law requirements.
The International Air Transport Association (Iata), a private international entity representing the aviation industry, said RSB is the certification it will adopt for aviation biofuel sustainability.
The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), the largest public aviation organization, has not yet defined which certification model for aviation biofuels it will recognize.
In Moura’s opinion, the international aviation organization’s decisions will not make the three certifications in existence today nonviable.
“It may be that the aviation organizations recognize more than one certification. As soon as they are recognized, it will require work on the part of the certifiers to make adaptations that depend much more on them than on the aviation industry,” noted the researcher.
Agreement with Boeing and Embraer
Coordinated by André Nassar, board member of the FAPESP Program for Research on Bioenergy (BIOEN), the study’s results were presented at a sustainability workshop that is part of a series of eight encounters being held by FAPESP, Boeing and Embraer. The series is part of an agreement signed in October 2011 to establish an R&D center for biojet fuels in Brazil involving the three institutions.
Begun at the end of April, the eight-workshop series aims to collect data from researchers, members of the biofuel production chain, representatives of the aviation sector and the government to identify the main scientific, technological, social and economic challenges to the development and adoption of biofuels by the commercial and executive aviation sector in Brazil.
Following the workshop series, FAPESP, Boeing and Embraer will carry out a cooperative research project on the most important topics covered in the workshops and will then release a call for proposals for the establishment of a commercial aviation biofuels R&D center.
The last workshop, during which the study’s results will be presented, is expected to be held at FAPESP before the end of the year.
The study entitled Benchmark of Cane-derived Renewable Jet Fuel Against Major Sustainability Standards by Paula Moura and others can be accessed clicking here.
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