July 9, 2014 5:43 am JST

Japanese airlines eye powering jumbo jets with biofuel in 2020

TOKYO -- Japanese airlines and aircraft manufacturers are starting an initiative to mass-produce biofuels that can power commercial flights, with the goal of launching the business in 2020.

     The effort involves creating cheap biofuels that can be produced with materials readily available in Japan, and establishing viable business models that allow for mass production.

     Among the 33 companies and organizations participating are U.S.-based Boeing, the University of Tokyo, Japan Airlines and All Nippon Airways. Other key players in Japanese aviation such as Narita International Airport, IHI, Kawasaki Heavy Industries, Itochu, and Sumitomo, as well as Japan Petroleum Exploration, will take part.

     Biofuels are created by processing plants and waste into ethanol and other substances. Because commonly used materials like sugar cane and corn are hard to secure in large quantities in Japan, the project will focus on three other sources -- household waste, algae and inedible plants.

     The group will deliberate on raw materials prices, supply chains, processing technology and distribution mechanisms for the three types of biofuel, and aims to settle on a business model and implementation plan for each by April.

     Raw materials that can sustain low-cost volume production will be singled out, and a supply network will be established as early as 2020.

     Each participating company will be given a specific role like materials procurement or the designing of plants.

     Jet fuel must have high heat-retention rates and meet other specs, as it needs to endure wide temperature swings. The U.S. is currently ahead in creating standards, and the Japanese initiative will use American efforts as a reference.

     The International Air Transport Association, which is comprised of leading airlines, plans to set a ceiling on carbon dioxide emissions from planes by 2020, and halve the entire industry's emissions by 2050 from 2005 levels. Development of a practical biofuel would be a large step toward these goals.