The aviation industry faces serious difficulties in developing alternative fuels for flying, according to a senior figure at Rolls-Royce who sought to dampen speculation that a rapid switch from kerosene to biofuel is in prospect.
Ulrich Wenger, head of fan and compressor engineering at Rolls-Royce Germany, said: “We have limited options. The volumes [of biofuel] are low and we do not have a producer who can generate biomass fuel without an output of carbon dioxide.
“It requires 180 tonnes of fuel for every aircraft take off. We cannot generate a high-enough volume of biofuels at present.”
Speaking at German travel trade show ITB in Berlin last week, Wenger outlined the challenges of producing an alternative to oil-based kerosene. He said: “Aviation needs fuel with high-energy density.
“The fuel needs to be manageable, with a tolerance of temperatures ranging above 40 degrees Centigrade and below minus 20 degrees. The alternative has to be a ‘drop in’ fuel with the same characteristics as kerosene.
“It must not be highly flammable and must be available on a large scale for distribution around the world. Kerosene fulfils these needs. We can’t produce high volumes of biofuels.”
However, Wenger rejected a suggestion that the cost of developing and producing alternative fuels would ultimately prove prohibitive. He said: “When aircraft first flew across the Continent the tickets were not affordable for most people. Now fuel is more expensive, but tickets are less expensive – so I’m not pessimistic on price.
“Fuel consumption per passenger kilometre has reduced 70% since we started flying jet aircraft. We can compensate for high fuel costs by improvements in efficiency.”
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