On the one hand it’s encouraging that airlines are experimenting with alternative fuels to lower their CO2 emissions. However, the hype always tends to outweigh the reality.

Lufthansa is getting in on the act with a press announcement and a micro-site covering their experimental use of biofuels (see Practical trial of biosynthetic fuel at Lufthansa successful). The success is not that they are going to use biofuels, or indeed that they have agreed any long-term use of biofuels. It’s just that they’ve verified that biofuels work as a partial replacement to kerosene. Something that other airlines have already proven.

In fact the ‘experiment’ relates to a 50% mix on one engine of an A3211 on the Hamburg-Frankfurt route. If we unpick that we find that 75% of the fuel is kerosene and that biofuels “emit about 50 per cent less CO2 than conventional fossil fuels”, so it could result in a 12.5% reduction is CO2 emissions. This figure isn’t given; the press announcement preferring to cite “According to initial calculations, CO2 emissions were reduced by 1,471 tonnes” which, of course, sounds much more impressive.

The fact that the Hamburg-Frankfurt route is probably serviced by a much more environmentally friendly rail route, which would be a better comparison, is not mentioned since the objective is to show aviation in a better light, not to reduce emissions.

Later the press release says “Biosynthetic kerosene is just as reliable as conventional jet fuel but the environmental effects are more positive”. Great piece of spin. More positive sound so much better than less negative. Since the environmental effects are positive, the more we fly the better it will be for the environment… Perhaps I should be generous and assume something is lost in the translation.