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Airbus tests biofuel on A380 for first time

Airlines make more purchase commitments for sustainable aviation fuel as developers work on hydrogen propulsion

European aerospace manufacturer Airbus said Monday it has performed a first flight of its extra-large A380 aircraft powered by 100% sustainable aviation fuel (SAF), part of an ongoing series of efforts underway to help airlines get to carbon-neutral emissions by midcentury.

The test aircraft took off from Blagnac Airport in Toulouse, France, on Friday with one of four Rolls-Royce Trent 900 engines on 100% SAF. The flight lasted three hours.

Total Energies provided 29 tons of unblended SAF primarily made from used cooking oil, as well as other waste fats. A second flight with the same aircraft is scheduled to take place from Toulouse to Nice Airport on Tuesday to test the use of SAF during takeoff and landing.

This is the third Airbus aircraft type to fly on 100% SAF in the past year. The first was an Airbus A350 in March 2021 followed by an A319neo single-aisle aircraft in October. 

Increasing the use of SAF remains a key pathway to achieving the industry’s ambition of net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. Last year’s International Air Transport Association’s blueprint for sustainable aviation report indicated that SAF could contribute between 53% and 71% of required carbon reductions.

Modern jets are currently certified to fly with up to a 50% blend of SAF mixed with kerosene. Airbus  aims to achieve certification of 100% SAF by the end of this decade.

Last week, the 14 members of the oneworld Alliance, which includes American Airlines (NASDAQ: AAL), Alaska Airlines (NYSE: ALK) and Finnair, announced plans to purchase up to 200 million gallons of SAF per year from Colorado-based renewable fuels producer Gevo Inc. It is the second such joint purchase commitment in four months. Delivery of the fuel will begin in 2027 under a five-year agreement. 

Gevo also signed an agreement with Delta Air Lines (NYSE: DAL) to supply 75 million gallons of SAF per year over seven years at an estimated future price of $2.8 billion. The agreement replaces a 2019 agreement with Delta to purchase 10 million gallons per year as Delta strives to incorporate more SAF into its operations.

Gevo’s SAF fuel is produced using inedible corn products that are processed to create ethanol that is then converted into SAF. The fuel is expected to be produced at three facilities under development in the Midwest. 

DHL Express also announced last week that BP and Neste have committed to provide more than 211 million gallons of SAF in the next five years, helping it save 2 million tons of CO2 and achieve the goal of 30% SAF use for aviation by 2030.

Industry officials say SAF needs to be produced in large amounts to serve as a bridge to clean-burning hydrogen power. The Biden administration has set a target for the U.S. to produce 3 billion gallons of SAF by 2030.

Airbus hydrogen program

The A380 aircraft used during the test is the same aircraft revealed last month as Airbus’ ZEROe Demonstrator — a flying testbed for future technologies designed to bring the world’s first zero-emission aircraft to market by 2035.

Airbus signed a partnership agreement with CFM International, a joint venture between GE and Safran Aircraft Engines, to collaborate on a significant hydrogen demonstration program scheduled to begin testing about mid-decade.

The program’s objective is to conduct ground and flight tests with a direct combustion engine fueled by hydrogen. The A380 demonstrator aircraft will be equipped with liquid hydrogen tanks. Airbus will manufacture the tanks at facilities in France and Germany, define the propulsion system requirements, oversee flight testing and operate the aircraft. CFM will modify the combustor, fuel system and control system of a GE Passport turbofan engine to run on hydrogen. 

The engine, which is assembled in the U.S., was selected because of its physical size, advanced turbo machinery and fuel flow capability. It will be mounted along the rear fuselage of the flying test bed to allow engine emissions, including contrails, to be monitored separately from those of the engines powering the aircraft, according to Airbus.

Click here for more FreightWaves/American Shipper stories by Eric Kulisch.

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Eric Kulisch

Eric is the Supply Chain and Air Cargo Editor at FreightWaves. An award-winning business journalist with extensive experience covering the logistics sector, Eric spent nearly two years as the Washington, D.C., correspondent for Automotive News, where he focused on regulatory and policy issues surrounding autonomous vehicles, mobility, fuel economy and safety. He has won two regional Gold Medals from the American Society of Business Publication Editors for government coverage and news analysis, and was voted best for feature writing and commentary in the Trade/Newsletter category by the D.C. Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. As associate editor at American Shipper Magazine for more than a decade, he wrote about trade, freight transportation and supply chains. Eric is based in Portland, Oregon. He can be reached for comments and tips at ekulisch@freightwaves.com