Cathay sets biofuels-based flight record, as new A350 ushers in renewable jet era at Hong Kong

May 31, 2016 |

BD TS 060116 Cathay smThese days, Cathay Pacific trades under the slogan “Life Well Travelled” and the delivery of the first of 48 super-modern, super-quiet, super-chic Airbus 350-900s is another milestone for that branding — but it might as well be “Life Sustainably Travelled” because the plane that arrived in Hong Kong last night on delivery from Toulouse flew on a 10% biofuels blend.

On arrival, the new jet found itself hailed by a welcoming committee including Joseph Lai, Permanent Secretary for Transport & Housing for Hong Kong, and Cathay Pacific Chief Operating Officer Rupert Hogg, and a bevy of aviation and trade officials, key business partners, and travelers.

The A350 aircraft is around 25% more fuel-efficient (thus CO2) than current aircraft and adding 10% biofuel blend influence to these numbers improves this CO2 reduction to well over 30%.when compounded.

It’s TOTAL/Amyris fuel, yessir

Cathay fueled for the 12-hour flight with 80 tons of 10% biofuel blend (farnesane), using fuel supplied by TOTAL/Amyris, supported by Airbus.  The farnesene comes from Brotas, processed locally to farnesane and shipped to France where it is blended and certified.

In fact, all A350-900’s will be flown from Toulouse to HK over the next 2 years, using a biofuel blend.

“The series of flights on the A350 will give us some mileage under the belt by virtue of regular use,” Cathay biofuels manager Jeff Ovens told The Digest. “We continue to seek opportunities to further broaden our supplier base, invest where appropriate and ensure cost effectiveness.”

“We are in this for the long-term,” he added.

On a side note, the 12-hour journey was the longest biofuel fuel flight to date, and there was enough residual fuel in the tanks upon arrival in HKG from Toulouse that the plane will be, technically, more than enough to take Cathay’s new A350 on its first regional flight on June 1, to Manila. So that will also be a biofuel powered flight, too.

Getting to Know You

It’s not just a publicity showcase for Cathay’s biofuels program. The biofuels-powered jet deliveries have technical goals as well.

“The intent of these flights is for us to become more familiar with the use of biofuels in our operation,” Ovens told The Digest, “in preparation for when ‘the gallons’ come, once commercialization gains more momentum – including our own investments.  The flight series will give us a regular drum beat of biofuel use and certification oversight.

“Since we made our biofuel investment in 2014,” he added, “the next logical step was try some flying and communicate to CX staff and the wider community on the benefits of low-carbon fuels by seeing them in action. There’s still some nervousness about aviation biofuels, particularly in the East, so flying on it removes some of these concerns prior to more volumes being used in the future.”

Why the 350s, why now?

Biofuels are one of several Cathay initiatives towards a low-carbon future, and they chose the A350 to compound the effect of fuel efficiency and low-carbon fuels. It’s a combination of using less fuel, and fuel with a lower carbon score — combined with improved flight management and navigation to reduce emissions per seat.

More to come

Over the next 10 years, Cathay are set to receive a large number of highly fuel-efficient jets, including the A350 and Boeing 777-9X,and on track to reduce our overall emissions count per passenger.

Storage assets?

Dedicated biofuel storage assets have been installed to support this initiative – more details on this will be available next month.

On Cathay’s progress with Fulcrum

“The feedstock processing facility is complete and currently in the commissioning phase,” Ovens noted. “It should be up and running in the next few months, processing MSW into feedstock suitable for fuel production. The biorefinery build will commence soon, once the EPC position is clear. In the interim, the processed feedstock can be sold as RDF and additional revenue will come via metal and recycling sales. Cathay recently visited the processing facility and were impressed with the standard of preparation and experience amongst the management and operations staff alike. We are very excited about this project.”

Ahem, about that “once the EPC position is clear” item. That means Abengoa, which is the EPC of record and has tumbled into bankruptcy proceedings. So, here’s the scoop on that. Abengoa is in the final stages of their restructuring— they expect to have their plan fully approved shortly. A major piece of that restructuring includes financing that would provide liquidity and credit support for projects like Fulcrum’s Sierra Biofuels Plant.

Doubtless, Fulcrum are optimistic that Abengoa will soon emerge from bankruptcy as a much more focused EPC company, with a strong balance sheet to support their performance. But as any company would do, Fulcrum will have had to prepare for alternative scenarios.

The Sierra BioFuels Plant is Fulcrum’s first commercial-scale plant. Located approximately 20 miles east of Reno, NV, the Sierra plant will convert more than 180,000 tons of prepared MSW feedstock into approximately 12 million gallons per year of renewable syncrude that will be further refined into low-carbon transportation fuel.

The Cathay Fulcrum backstory

Cathay Pacific makes strategic biofuels investment in Fulcrum, signs $1B+ jet fuel deal

Waste Makes Haste: The Digest’s 2015 8-Slide Guide to Fulcrum BioEnergy

The Amyris jet fuel backstory

Amyris, Total to commercialize renewable, low-carbon jet fuel technology; Total takes 75% stake in JV

KLM picks Amyris-Total renewable jet fuel as climate takes center stage in NY and at the UN

About that Airbus 350

You’ll sleep better — for one, there’s lower cabin pressure and sharply reduced noise levels from the uber-efficient Rolls-Royce Trent XWB engines — but on these biofuels flights, there’s the peace that comes from low-carbon dreams. The aircraft features high-def personal TV screens, Cathay’s first foray into high-speed airborne wi-fi, LED mood lighting, USB and power ports, 6-way headrests — even a wake-up call function at the front of the plane. More about the plane here.

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