February 5, 2008 The Airbus A380 has become the first commercial aircraft to complete a flight using liquid fuel processed from gas. GTL involves converting natural gas, which emits the least carbon of all the fossil fuels, to a liquid fuel oil, which can be used as a fuel substitute, or mixed with regular fuel. The three-hour flight from the UK to France was the first stage of a test flight program to evaluate the environmental impact of alternative fuels in the airline market.
Greenhouse gas emissions from aviation increased by 87% in the EU from 1990 to 2006, causing companies like Airbus, an EADS subsidiary, to research greener alternatives. The GTL initiative is seen as an important first step to eventually adopting second-generation bio-fuels as a primary energy source. Airbus will study viable second-generation bio-fuels when they become available.
GTL has attractive characteristics for local air quality, as well as some benefits in terms of aircraft fuel burn relative to existing jet fuel. For instance, it is virtually free of sulphur. Synthetic fuel can be made from a range of hydrocarbon source material including natural gas or organic plant matter made by a process called Fischer-Tropsch.
The A380 has four engines, including segregated fuel tanks, making it ideal for engine shut down and re-light tests under standard evaluation conditions. During the flight, engine number one was fed with a blend of GTL and jet fuel whilst the remaining three were fed with standard jet fuel.
Sjoerd Post, Vice President Shell Aviation said “We are pleased to have successfully completed this flight, which will pave the way for approval of synthetic jet fuel in the future, we are proud to be part of this consortium which is exploring cleaner fuels for the Aviation industry.” “This has been a great achievement. Fuel and environment are key challenges aviation is facing and for which technology and international research collaboration open up new horizons. Our alternative fuels roadmap requires innovation, diversity of ideas and options that need to be explored, said Airbus President and CEO Tom Enders. “This takes bold cross industry and cross border collaboration and that's what we are showing today with our groundbreaking first test flight with alternative fuels. It is part and parcel of Airbus' commitment to providing leadership as an eco-efficient enterprise”.