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Iberia and Repsol fly Madrid-Bilbao on green fuel




The IB426 flight reduced CO2 emissions by 1.4 tonnes (photo: Iberia)
The IB426 flight reduced CO2 emissions by 1.4 tonnes (photo: Iberia)
SPAIN. An Iberia Airbus A320neo with a capacity of 180 passengers made a scheduled flight from Madrid to Bilbao on green fuel on Thursday 4 November 2021. Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF) is produced from waste and residues, mainly cooking oil.

This trial was carried out thanks to a partnership, signed in July 2021, between the Spanish airline subsidiary of the IAG (International Airlines Group) and its compatriot the oil company Repsol. The agreement provides for the development of low-carbon aviation fuels, the production of renewable electricity and hydrogen to decarbonise Iberia's fleet of vehicles, and the ecological transition to more sustainable equipment thanks to new technologies based on artificial intelligence.
Iberia plans to purchase nine million litres of CAD per year from 2022.

The project is supported by Aena. The world's largest airport operator (46 airports and 2 heliports in Spain and 23 other airports worldwide) is working on several collaborative projects to encourage the use of sustainable fuels in air transport.

"This low-carbon flight is another step towards decarbonising the aviation sector through the use of biofuels and improved energy efficiency," said a joint statement from Iberia and Repsol.

Waste as a raw material for fuel

The IB426's journey has also been "more efficient thanks to a flight operation that improves energy efficiency by reaching the optimum altitude level in the climb and descent phases", the text states. In addition, a zero-emission electric vehicle filled the aircraft's tank and all ground operations (loading and unloading baggage, assisting the aircraft and towing it to the runway) were carried out by the least polluting means of transport, such as the mototok, a remote-controlled electric vehicle for carrying out the aircraft's push-back manoeuvre. On board, Iberia tested different solutions to replace single-use plastics.
In total, the flight reduced 1.4 tonnes of CO2 emissions.

The CAD used on this experimental flight came from a batch produced by Repsol in August 2021 at its Petronor complex, located near Bilbao, the capital of the province of Vizcaya in the Basque Country. It was the first to be produced on the Spanish market using waste as feedstock. The previous two from the same plant were produced from biomass at the oil company's industrial complexes in Puertollano and Tarragona.

According to Repsol and Iberia, "electrification is not viable at the moment and renewable hydrogen still requires a technological breakthrough in aircraft. Biofuels will therefore be the fastest and most effective option for reducing emissions in air transport over the next few years."

Biojet, the fuel of the future

Several oil companies have embarked on the production of sustainable aviation fuel (SAF), also known as Biojet, from waste and residues, in particular recovered cooking oil, which can be blended at 50% with aviation paraffin. As part of a drive to halve its CO2 emissions by 2050, the aviation sector is pursuing the goal of becoming 100% bio-based by 2030. Today, DACs represent only 0.1% of the 360 billion litres used by the world's aviation industry.

In France, TotalEnergies and Safran entered into a strategic partnership in September 2021 to develop the use of DAC. The French oil company has invested €500 million to convert its Grandpuits refinery (Seine-et-Marne) into biofuels by 2024. Out of a total processing capacity of 400,000 tonnes per year, 170,000 tonnes will be CAD, mainly intended to supply airports in the Paris region,

The partnership between Airbus, Dassault Aviation, Safran, Onera (Office national d'études et de recherches aérospatiales) and the French Ministry of Transport has resulted in a first three-hour test flight over the Toulouse region on 28 October 2021 as part of their joint study VOLcan (Flight with New Alternative Fuels). The Airbus A319neo ran on 100% sustainable aviation fuel (used cooking oil and residual grease). This unblended biofuel was supplied by TotalEnergies from its plant in Normandy, near Le Havre. The VOLcan project will continue with ground and flight tests in 2021 and 2022.

Eni announced in mid-October 2021 that it would start production of its "Eni Biojet" at its Taranto refinery and then at its Livorno refinery in 2022. In 2024, the Gela biorefinery will also join them. The Italian company plans to double its current biorefinery capacity by 1.1 million tonnes per year over the next few years. Eni plans to produce 5 to 6 million tonnes per year of green fuels by 2050, including 500,000 tonnes of CAD by 2030.


Frédéric Dubessy


Thursday, November 4th 2021



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