A new impulse to the
European Advanced Biofuels Flightpath Initiative

Market failures and fragmented policies in the EU transport system are currently preventing the market uptake of Sustainable Aviation Fuels (SAF). An updated and renewed approach to the 2011 Biofuels FlightPath Initiative was therefore required to further impulse its implementation. As a result, the European Commission decided to launch the new Biofuels FlightPath to take into account recent evolutions and to tackle the current barriers identified for the deployment of SAF.

The Biofuels FlightPath is managed by its Core Team, which consists of representatives from Airbus, Air France, KLM, IAG, IATA, BiojetMap, SkyNRG and Lufthansa from the aviation side and Mossi Ghisolfi, Neste, Honeywell-UOP, Total and Swedish Biofuels on the biofuel producers’ side.

A dedicated executive team, formed by SENASA, ONERA, Transport & Mobility Leuven and Wageningen UR, will coordinate for the next 3 years the stakeholder’s strategy in the field of aviation by supporting the activities of the Core Team and providing sound recommendations to the European Commission.

Back in 2011, the European Commission, in coordination with Airbus, leading European airlines and key European biofuel producers, launched the first industry-wide initiative to speed up the commercialisation of aviation biofuels in Europe. The “European Advanced Biofuels FlightPath” initiative was set up as a roadmap to achieve an annual production of two million tons of sustainably produced biofuel for aviation by 2020.

The initiative committed members to support and promote the production, storage and distribution of sustainably produced drop-in biofuels for their use in aviation and establish the appropriate financial mechanisms to support the construction of advanced biofuel production plants in Europe. The initiative aimed at getting biofuels to the market faster and at setting a target level to the amount of sustainable biofuels used in European civil aviation.

Under the European 7th Framework Program, demonstration programs were supported both to set-up facilities capable of producing of the order of 1000 tons/year and to produce aviation fuels from sustainable feedstock (e.g. ITAKA, Biorefly, BFMJ projects). Horizon 2020 Work Programme 2016-2017 (LCE-20) calls for volumes of the order of 10.000 tons/year. However, almost six years later, the progress seems to be insufficient to achieve the 2 Mt target in 2020. 

The main obstacle to the widespread uptake of biofuels in aviation is not due to technical constraints, since various technologies are ready for or close to commercial deployment, but rather the economic, policy and market-related issues. While the access to low-cost feedstock is a significant challenge for a commercial-scale deployment in the long term, the most significant issue for the near-term is stimulating the necessary investments to ramp up biofuel production. By now, the Biofuel Flightpath initiative has not yet succeeded in finding and proposing practical solutions to address current market barriers. In addition, the political and regulatory landscape for biofuels has also evolved over the recent years. The perception and understanding of some critical sustainability issues has acquired a larger influence in decision-making, such as the risk of a competition with food production and the effects of indirect land use change (ILUC) on GHG emissions caused by feedstock production. This allows discussing and working to define the way forward in order to enhance the benefits of biofuel production and avoid potential negative effects.

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