Airbus hopes to turn algae into biofuel for planes, with the plane maker saying that by 2050 five percent of jet fuel could be provided by algaculture. Jim Drury reports.
Aviation giants Airbus hope algae could one day help power jets - and help airlines cut their C02 emissions. They're working with the Munich Technical University to cultivate the photosynthetic organisms in this lab. Algae here is cultivated in water with a salt content of 6-9 percent. A combination of light and carbon dioxide does the rest. SOUNDBITE (English) ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR OF INDUSTRIAL BIOCATALYSIS AT MUNICH TECHNICAL UNIVERSITY (TUM), THOMAS BRUECK, SAYING: "Primarily you need obviously algae cells that are able to generate fats and oils. In combination with CO2 and light these algae cells propagate and form algae biomass and under certain cultivation conditions, for example the lack of nitrogen in the cultivation media, these algae cells accumulate fats and oils in their cell mass and this can reach up to 50 to 70 percent of the total cell weight. That is quite a lot and once you formed that fat and oil you can actually extract it from the cell and convert it over a chemical process." In these open tanks algae grows 12 times faster than plants cultivated on soil, producing an oil yield 30 times that of rapeseed. The company says the project remains in its infancy. SOUNDBITE (English) AIRBUS GROUP SPOKESMAN, GREGOR VON KURSELL, SAYING: "Algae fuel today is still in the state of research so today, we could probably not offer it at costs which are realistic to run an airline. But we are sure that over time, we will make it possible to offer kerosine made of algae for a competitive price." Researchers believe biofuel from algaculture could provide up to 5 percent of jetfuel needs by around 2050.