The Boeing Co. and China’s energy sector leaders Thursday signed agreements that would see Boeing becoming involved with a sustainable biofuels industry based in China.
Boeing has been experimenting with and deploying biofuels in aviation for some time and China’s hunger for sustainable energy sources has gained momentum as a consumer boom among its 1.4 billion population claims increasing shares of the country’s oil imports.
Boeing, PetroChina and representatives of the Chinese energy sector and the global aviation industry gathered in Beijing for the agreement. Following the signing, a news release said the agreement would initiate evaluation of the planned new industry to be based in China.
Further details of the project are yet to be released.
The strategic assessment is the first such effort in China and will take a comprehensive look at the environmental and socio-economic benefits of developing sustainable alternatives to fossil-based jet fuels, the announcement said.
All phases of sustainable aviation biofuel development will be studied. From the agronomy entailed to energy inputs and outputs, life-cycle emissions analysis, infrastructure and government policy support, all aspects are up for scrutiny.
Assessment work is to begin in June. A broader sustainable aviation biofuel agreement between China’s National Energy Administration and the U.S. Trade and Development Agency may follow to support the commercialization and use of aviation biofuels in China through the U.S.-China Energy Cooperation Program, a public-private partnership.
Other U.S. companies participating include AECOM, Honeywell’s UOP and United Technologies. Air China and PetroChina Company, Ltd. will lead the Chinese team.
Boeing Research and Technology and the Chinese Academy of Science’s Qingdao Institute of Bioenergy and Bioprocess Technology agreed to expand their collaboration to include other research institutions and aviation supply chain entities as part of their efforts on algae-based aviation biofuel development.
Work on algae biofuel has gone for a few years and has been followed up with test flights using the experimental fuel.
Boeing and QIBEBT earlier said they would establish a joint research and development laboratory focused on algal growth, harvesting and processing technologies. The facility will be in Qingdao and managed by Boeing Research and Technology-China and QIBEBT. The entities will work together to place a strong emphasis on commercial applications for developed technologies.
Industry analysts said renewal energy research in processed algae as fuel offered better prospects than other recent attempts at producing energy from feedstock. Critics have opposed overlap between agricultural and food crops and feedstock for producing fuel and questioned its long-term effects on human food supplies.
Air China, PetroChina, Boeing and Honeywell’s UOP will conduct an inaugural flight using sustainable biofuel derived from biomass grown and processed in China. PetroChina will provide the biomass, which will be processed into jet fuel by UOP. The biofuel flight in China will highlight the viability of the entire supply chain — from seed to flight.
“Boeing is actively pursuing biofuel research around the world,” said Boeing China President David Wang. “Sustainable biofuels can help reduce carbon emissions while offering the potential to lessen aviation’s dependence on fossil fuels.
“Through these agreements China, its aviation sector and its leadership are demonstrating tremendous drive in the quest to develop a clean, sustainable aviation fuel supply,” Wang said.