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Qatar Airways leads search for alternative jet fuels

Qatar: Wednesday, November 14 - 2012 @ 18:51

The Doha-based airline’s first major green initiative was forming a consortium in 2007 with a range of partners including Shell, Rolls Royce, Airbus, and Qatar Petroleum to develop an ultra-clean low emissions jet fuel derived from natural gas. That led to the first successful trial of gas-to-liquids (GTL) jet fuel when an Airbus A380 flew from the UK to France in February 2008.

In October 2009, Qatar Airways made aviation history when the first-ever commercial flight using GTL fuel was completed between London Gatwick and Doha Airport. The flight took place shortly after a 50:50 blend of GTL kerosene and conventional refinery-derived kerosene had been approved for use as a civil aviation jet fuel.

Although no subsequent commercial flights using GTL fuel have occurred, the completion of Shell’s Pearl GTL plant in Qatar late last year has addressed a critical supply-side issue that was one of the main constraints of using GTL. The plant, which is the largest gas-to-liquid plant in the world and biggest energy project in Qatar, will produce enough fuel to carry 250 passengers 4,000 times around the world, the carrier says.

The facility will provide GTL fuel to the new Doha International Airport, which is slated to open in 2013. No other types of fuel will be supplied to the airport.

Environmentally friendly fuels

In a recent speech in Washington, Qatar Airways’ CEO Akbar Al Baker said GTL fuel is much cleaner for the environment than jet fuel made from petroleum. He claimed that GTL has no sulfur so it does not produce sulfur dioxide, which is a more potent global warming gas than carbon dioxide when emitted at low altitudes.

Qatar Airways has four aircraft powered by Rolls Royce engines, and the manufacturer has approved the use of GTL fuel in its engines. The carrier also has 110 aircraft with General Electric engines, and Al Baker said that it was still awaiting formal approval from GE.

Qatar Airways has also led the way in developing biofuels as an alternative to petroleum-based jet fuel by forming the Qatar Advanced Biofuel Platform, which includes partners such as Airbus, Qatar Petroleum, and Qatar University. The project is focusing on using algae as the bio-jet fuel feedstock because it is considered to be more environmentally-friendly than crops, which require large amounts of water and land.

Aviation analyst Saj Ahmad believes that Qatar’s gas reserves give the country’s national carrier a big advantage compared to its rivals throughout the world. “Gas-to-liquid is still in its infancy and the key problem with it is that it’s a finite resource that not everyone has access to,” he noted. “Qatar Airways is fortunate that Qatar sits atop one of the world’s largest proven gas reserves and has harnessed that advantage by liquefaction of gas to power with the aim of slashing its carbon footprint, especially as the airline expands at a frenetic rate.

“While other airlines may shun or perhaps try to implement some gas-to-liquid operations where they are able, for key markets like the EU that have put in place controversial emissions trading for flights into Europe, Qatar Airways will be able to use the natural resources of the state to significantly cut its carbon footprint while other airlines will have to pay more or reassess just how quickly they can expand into Europe,” he added.

Ahmad also said that with Qatar Airways’ entrance into the oneworld alliance, there is a great business case for other oneworld airlines to also leverage their new connections in Doha and use liquefied gas to power their airplanes back to Europe.

“There’s no denying the innovative and forward-thinking strategy being played out here by Qatar Airways. While some may argue that their advantage is not available to competitors, that’s should be of nil consequence to Akbar Al Baker. At the end of the day, an airline is a business – and if liquid gas improves Qatar Airways performance as well as environmental considerations, then other airlines will have to sit up and take stock of what they can do to compete more effectively – whether that’s through smaller fleets, or by using fuel efficient airplanes,” he said.

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Wednesday, November 14- 2012 @ 18:51 UAE local time (GMT+4) Replication or redistribution in whole or in part is expressly prohibited without the prior written consent of Mediaquest FZ LLC.

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