India’s first ever flight using the biofuel has flown between Dehradun and New Delhi on August 27, 2018. The biofuel was used as a blend of 75% the aviation turbine fuel (ATF). SpiceJet became the first company to use this fuel, which was extracted from the seed of the jatropha crop and developed by Council for Scientific and Industrial Research, and Indian Institute of Petroleum (IIP) in Dehradun after eight long years of research and development. The Bombardier Q400 flight of SpiceJet is now the first official flight of the country to fly 285 kilometres carrying 72 people for 43 minutes using the biofuel blend.
According to the press release by SpiceJet Chairman, biojet fuel has the capability to reduce dependence on the regular aviation turbine fuel by almost 50% on every flight. The fuel extracted from the jatropha crop is according to the specifications of aircraft engine manufacturers Pratt & Whitney and Bombardier and can decrease the overall carbon emissions of the flight by 15%. These biofuels can produce the same amount of power as the traditional fuels and cause less heat. Additionally, the fuel costs are very low compared to regular aviation fuels and reduce the current fuel expenses by around 20%.
The experiments of biofuels in the global aviation industry have started quite a few years before. Alaska Airlines used cooking oil blend in 2011 to operate 75 selected flights, KLM aviation company of Netherlands has operated biofuel flights for six months in 2013 between Amsterdam and New York cities, and recently Qantas Airways flew a biofuel flight in January 2018 between Australia and the United States of America. The increasing fuel prices around the world, and the propelling tourism industry supports the demand for the biofuels among the aviation companies to increase their profits.
However, the production of biofuel in India is still in its infant stages, and it took almost four days to produce 430 litres of hydro processed ester and fatty acid fuel. Jatropha, which provided the biofuel for testing in India is a non-edible crop thought as the answer to the dependence on Middle East’s crude oil. Over the last ten years, only six production plants were established, and their current operation level is less than 30%. In fact, the prices of jatropha oil are costlier than other biofuels like karanj and ingudi fruits oil. Moreover, at the current barrel price of crude oil, jatropha oil does not make much price difference other than the tax exemptions.
Furthermore, the long cultivation period and availability of alternative crops is restricting the farmers to grow jatropha seeds. It generally takes five years to collect the good quantity of seeds for the extraction, and around 70% of the fuel cost is its feed cost. The government initially tried to encourage farmers to grow jatropha seeds and make the fuel available by 2017, but eventually withdrew its plans in 2013 due to the low yields and unfriendly results to the farmers.
The aviation industry of India is expected to become the third largest of the world by 2025 with an increasing number of flights and passenger travel in the nation. The fluctuating foreign exchange value and increasing fuel prices are imparting losses on the aviation companies of the region. The companies are also increasing the number of flights for local travel with the anticipation of additional profits, increasing the demand for fuel supply. The leading companies in the country like Indigo, SpiceJet, Jet Airways and others have witnessed losses in recent years and are looking alternate cost-efficient fuel sources to meet the growing demand.
Therefore, the biofuels are going to have extensive growth possibility in the future, and with the support of government policies and funding, they can replace the traditional crude oil in the aviation industry. The first flight is just a start to the future changes in the aviation market, which is expected to transform with the advent of biofuels.