German government funds Lufthansa partnership with leading palm oil agrofuel producer

cross-posted from Rainforest Rescue

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Lufthansa has published plans for the world’s first commercial flights with agrofuel-blends – including palm oil –  from April 2011.  A 25% agrofuel blend will be used on flights between Hamburg and Frankfurt during a six-month test series.  The agrofuels will be supplies by Finnish oil and agrofuel company Neste Oil, who have recently opened the world’s largest biodiesel refinery in Singapore, which is running exclusively on palm oil. Neste Oil are at the forefront of developing agrofuels for aircraft and have said that they could convert their Singapore refinery to produce jet fuel at any time.  As well as the Singapore refinery, they operate two agrofuel refineries in Finland and are building a fourth one in Rotterdam, all of which use a process (hydrotreatment) which can be easily adapted to produce jet fuel.  Neste Oil has been awarded ‘suppliers certification’ by the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil for the larger of their two refineries in Finland.

Most of their palm oil comes from IOI, a Malaysian corporation responsible for the ongoing destruction of rainforests and peatlands, for illegal plantings and for land-grabbing and land conflicts in Indonesia.  In the Malaysian state of Sarawak, a court ruled last year that IOI had illegally bulldozed rainforest, paddy fields and people’s fruit trees to plant oil palms. The state government of Sarawak has just announced plans for another one million hectares of rainforest to be cut down for oil palms and IOI is one of the main investors in this expansion.

Rainforest Rescue has a copy of an email from a Lufthansa spokesperson which confirms that palm oil will form at least part of the agrofuel blend for the test flights.  Some jatropha oil may be added to the palm oil.

Jatropha oil is only available in small quantities, not on a commercial scale due to low yields and widespread harvest failure.  Nonetheless, millions of hectares of land have been converted to jatropha plantations, with small farmers, indigenous people and pastoralists being evicted for jatropha, for example in Tanzania, India and Mexico and forests are also being destroyed for such plantations, for example in Paraguay and India.  Large-scale jatropha use in aircraft is less likely that palm oil use, but would be no less destructive.

The impact of Lufthansa’s ‘test programme’ will be far greater than the amounts of agrofuels they will burn during those six months. Neste Oil appears to be the only company worldwide that has the capacity to produce large quantities of jet fuel from plant oil – mostly palm oil.  They have already announced that they are looking at converting one or more of their refineries to produce jet fuel in future. They are expecting international aviation authorities to give the green light to plant-oil based jet fuel just before the Lufthansa test flights start and a technically ‘successful’ test series could well  pave the way for commercial agrofuel use by different airlines worldwide.

Shockingly, the German government is subsidising Lufthansa’s agrofuel project to the tune of 2.5 million Euros and has publicly welcomed their deal with Neste Oil.

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