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Green Skies Ahead

Norwegian wood may power tomorrow’s air travel

With more than 2,500 kilometers of coastline rumpled by deep fjords and rugged mountains, Norway seems tailor-made for the airline industry. In fact, industry experts are known to joke that “When God created Norway, he was thinking about aviation.” 

Now, a coalition of forest industry representatives, environmental organizations and aviation companies hope to make air travel in Norway greener by laying the groundwork for aviation biofuels. In November 2014, two jets operated by Norway’s two major airlines, SAS and Norwegian, flew between domestic airports with a 48–52 blend of biofuel and conventional A-1 jet fuel. The blend cuts carbon dioxide emissions by 40% compared to regular jet fuel. In addition, Oslo Airport is the world’s first biofuel “hub,” where biofuel will be supplied through the fuel pipelines and hydrants. 

Norway’s first two biofuel flights “were important to show people that this was possible, because there are a lot of myths about biofuels,” says Kåre Gunnar Fløystad, an adviser at ZERO, a Norway-based nonprofit that promotes cuts in greenhouse-gas emissions, and which helped organize the flights. Among the passengers traveling from Bergen to Oslo was Tine Sundtoft, Norway’s Minister of Climate and Environment. While she was impressed with the flight, she said that the government would be reluctant to unilaterally require Norway’s airlines to use a biofuel blend, because it is at least double the price of conventional jet fuel.

In spite of the costs, the Lufthansa Group, SAS and KLM have signed an agreement to purchase biofuel from the Oslo Airport refueling facility. Avinor, the government-owned company that runs 46 of Norway’s 52 airports, will subsidize the cost of the biofuel, says Olav Mosvold Larsen, senior executive advisor at Avinor. Biofuel users will also avoid Norway’s US$0.13 per liter carbon tax on domestic jet fuels, he says. 

One potential source of biofuels is wood, says Erik Lahnstein, executive director of the Norwegian Forest Owners Federation, which represents 36,000 landowners and roughly 70% of the country’s forest production. As demand for paper products drops, the industry has closed mills and factories.    

Two recent initiatives are intended to pave the way for Norway’s domestic production of wood-derived biofuels. The renewable-energy company Statkraft and the Swedish forest company Södra are exploring biofuel production at a former cellulose factory in Hurum, while Avinor has pledged roughly US$12 million over the next decade for biofuel projects. A 2013 study commissioned by Avinor and the Norwegian airline industry concluded that Norway could sustainably produce up to 230 million liters of biofuel from wood products at competitive prices by 2025.

“There is a need and space for aviation in the future world,” Larsen says. “We just have to make sure it is as sustainable as possible.”

Illustration by Nicolet Schenck

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