Airbus A380 Completes Flight Powered By Cooking Oil

Fossil fuels are making news for all the wrong reasons of late. Whether it’s their contribution to global climate change or the fact that the price and supply hinges on violent geopolitics, there are more reasons than ever to shift to cleaner energy sources.

In the world of aviation, that means finding a cleaner source of fuel. A test earlier this year took place in pursuit of that very goal, where an Airbus A380 airliner was flown solely on fuel derived from cooking oil.

Sustainable Fuels Are Key

An Airbus A380 served as the testbed for 100% SAF fuel, running one engine solely on the cooking oil-derived product. The world’s largest airliner is seeing declining use as smaller, more fuel-efficient planes are taking over. Credit: Airbus

Globally, aviation activity produces around 2.1% of carbon dioxide emissions attributable to human activity. As a whole, it makes up 12% of emissions from transport as a whole. While emissions dipped thanks to the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, on a whole, those emissions are trending back up as the industry has returned to regular operation.

One way to reduce this figure is to switch to a sustainable fuel source. When fossil fuels are dug up and burned, they release stored carbon into the atmosphere, creating warming. However, so-called Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF) gets around this problem by relying on organic ingredients. The idea is that the carbon dioxide released from its combustion is offset by the carbon dioxide absorbed by the crops and organic matter used in its production. It’s imperfect, and certainly not a true zero-emissions solution; outside of losses and inefficiencies, combustion engines of all types tend to produce other harmful gases like oxides of nitrogen. However, it is still a serious improvement over traditional fossil fuels; Airbus claims that flying planes on SAF could net a reduction in carbon output of 53% to 71%.

To demonstrate the concept, an Airbus A380 was flown on March 25 from Blagnac Airport in Toulouse, France, where Airbus is based. The plane completed a three-hour flight, with one Rolls-Royce Trent 900 jet engine running on 100% sustainable aviation fuel. A further test was executed on March 29, where the fuel was used during the demanding take-off and landing phases.

Neste, ATR, and Swedish airline Braathens Regional Airlines teamed up to run a plane on 100% SAF in both engines. The companies hope to get certification to run 100% sustainable fuel by 2025. Photo credit: ATR

The fuel supplied for the test came from French company TotalEnergies. The specific type of SAF fuel used is known as HEFA-SPK, or Hydroprocessed Esters and Fatty Acids – Synthetic Paraffinic Kerosene. It’s made by chemical treatment of waste cooking oils and fats, which processes it into a usable substitute for kerosene-type jet fuels.

HEFA-SPK fuel is in many ways a mature technology, and is already being used in aviation today. Airbus aircraft are already approved to fly on 50% blends of HEFA-SPK with regular jet fuel, and it makes up 1% of jet fuel used globally. However, for now, it’s still more expensive than regular jet fuel, and production is limited, slowing its uptake.

Airbus’s tests were successful, and build upon earlier tests which got 50% blends approved for use. The company hopes to get planes certified to use 100% SAF by the end of the decade.

They’re not the only company working in this space, either. Where Airbus elected to run just one engine on SAF, others are going further. Swedish SAF supplier Neste recently completed a test in partnership with ATR and  Braathens Regional Airlines. The successful test ran both engines of a ATR 72-600 small regional airliner on SAF. It builds on several prior tests on single engines, and the companies hope to get certified for 100% SAF use by 2025.

Overall, there’s still much work to be done before airlines are running solely on sustainable fuel. The safety-conscious, conservative nature of airline regulations mean that it will still be some time before the fuel is approved for use in all conditions. Production capacity must also be ramped up, along with provisions made for distributing the fuel to airports. In the absence of regulations promoting its use, SAFs must also find a way to compete with fossil fuels on price, or people will have to show that they’re willing to pay a green premium.

However, none of these hurdles are insurmountable. Expect more flights to run on SAF blends in the short term, and to see the fuel take over entirely in some applications in future.

[Banner Image: “F-WWOW” by Oliver Holzbauer. Thumbnail: Airbus A380-800 by Steve Elliott.]

73 thoughts on “Airbus A380 Completes Flight Powered By Cooking Oil

  1. A practical problem is that there isn’t very much of it. In the US, about 4.5 billion pounds of used cooking is collected per year. That’s about 16 million barrels, or less than a day’s worth of US crude oil consumption. And of course, that cooking oil is already used for other applications.

    1. Yes this, and several other reasons, render this as ‘Green Wash’. Just one reason is probably that the chemical processing necessary to produce a jet fuel that does not freeze at low temperatures makes it more energy and cost effective to use it as a road fuel where it can be used at higher ambient temperatures.

    2. If demand was there to drive the prices up, farmers could grow crops with high oil yields, just as they do now to produce ethanol.

      No, it’s not efficient or great, but it’s a possibility that’s less worse for the planet than continuing to burn fossil fuels at our current rate. And existing planes can work interchangeably with it while still landing at airports that only provide fossil fuels. All without building a new fleet of very expensive aircraft.

      The right answer is less jet fueled trips, but that hasn’t happened yet.

        1. Corn to ethanol produces high protein animal feed. Same as fermenting for vitamin ethanol.

          It’s debatable which is the byproduct.

          Pretending the feed doesn’t exist is pretty close to a lie.

          Off point: corn and beat sugar shouldn’t be produced. Their existence proves open market zealots are full of shit. Both are grown on much better land then sugar cane. Sugar should be a cash cow for tropical swamps. But farmers vote.

      1. > If demand was there to drive the prices up, farmers could grow crops with high oil yields, just as they do now to produce ethanol.

        Sure. While 10% of the world population are hungry, the 1st world only thinks about jetting around…

        Congratulations!

      2. Turning food land into fuel land doesn’t make sense. Nevermind that largescale Ag is dependent on fossil fuel derived fertilizers. This is just greenwashing, not innovation.

        1. A field of biofuel crops is cheaper than a field of solar panels of similar power output, and achieves basically the same thing – sunlight to useful energy. The power density is ~100x lower, but in sparsely populated areas where land is cheap it makes sense. Especially if there are areas where fuel crops grow better than food crops

          For things like civil aviation where battery electrification is at least 50 years away, using crops to generate fuel seems to make more sense than using renewable electricity to make hydrogen, and making liquid fuel from that – far more of the process is done by a plant that you don’t have to mine for or build

        2. How about use land that’s otherwise mostly unused? Specifically talking about front and back yards, only a tiny percentage of that is used to grow food.

          There’s also the option of biofuel from ocean algae.

    3. Yep and majority of that oil is being collected and shipped to China so they can make cheap fuel while we pay $6/gallon. A friend and I had been working on a project/plan years ago to contract farmers to grow oil crops and we would process a % of that crop into fuel for them to operate on and take a % for ourselves to operate our machinery and cover our production costs. We constructed a mobile fuel processing facility that we could convert seed to oil to fuel, we had the production plant finished and needed to acquire seed presses yet but politics and regulations forced us to discontinue operations along with funding to move ahead. Motivation became a major issue along with a huge lack of work resources that had motivation to do a job and produce a quality product. Now making Diesel fuel from oil seed isn’t really rocket science but it does take a bit of chemical knowledge and when you’re done, you can have a fuel that will work in a conventional turbine engine and a piston engine. The big problem is the current land mass capable of raising crops on is limited and clearing the Amazon is not a solution nor is farming a desert with rivers that are drying up like in my other post. Natural life in regions that are not currently used as farm land will and is going to suffer which only contributes to the extinction level we are dealing with right now ! We have to face the reality that real estate is not being made to support all the things we believe we must do to exist. Only one true solution, we need to cut back on population and activity or we are going to exclude future life completely at higher levels, the only thing left will be coach roaches and centipedes, scorpions and micro organisms maybe some plant life at least for a little while. It’s not hard to see why so much wealth is being invested in search for a place to fly off to so we can exploit that place also to insure at least some of us or our descendants continue on in time.

  2. A friend of mine and I tried to make a shift from Petro fuels, Diesel, many years ago when the prices did their first launch into the $3+ realm and we did pretty good that first year, managed to keep all 4 of our Diesel Dodge pickups going plus supplying fuel for the 3 tractors we were using to put up nearly 500 tons of hay plus supplying his brother with fuel to run his semi for hauling cattle and hay and even had some fuel left over to pawn off for a few people to promote our work. We built a processing facility that we could turn out around 1000 gallons a day from materials we had around the ranch plus a minor amount of needed items we didn’t have on hand. Willy Nelson tried to buy the plant from us, my friend declined and before the next year came around, politics and regulations at the tribal level, state and federal level along with veggy oil supply issues pretty much put us out of business ! The establishment in this country has adjusted itself to do anything and everything it possibly can to squeeze anyone that makes an attempt to wean itself from the market and become self sufficient or become productive enough to assist regional economies. The fuel we were producing, we did crude testing of our own and we were confident back in 2005 our fuel or any of the fuels being made at that time would be adequate for air travel with very little modifications to conventional turbine engines of the era. There’s no way any fuel source outside of internal combustion fuels of any chemical makeup are going to be efficient enough to power agricultural or commercial machinery. It simply isn’t going to work to expect a pile of batteries to power a tractor to work a farm field all day or pull a rail line of cars loaded with freight or anything else. The only possible way that could be done would be with a widely distributed source of renewable electric power along the rails and then all the rails would have to be isolated to prevent death from contact with the rails. There is not enough arable land in use to supply enough crop product to produce fuel to run the machinery and adequately supply the necessary resources for food to feed populations as is let alone the same at growth rates ! Water supplies are in danger of depletion and pollution, distribution of said water is going to become a critical issue, take the Rio Grande, Colorado, and every other river west of the divide here, look at the Po in Italy, the Amazon and the deforestation issue in South America, which is affecting the rainfall which feeds the flow. The only thing that is going to make a sustainable difference on this planet from this point on is a mass die off of the human race coupled with the major cut back of activity that will bring about until the planet is at a point it can absorb what is happening. Those people that are in control of the financial element have no intent to change anything that will affect their value and benefit the whole of this earth as long as any change means they must invest their personal wealth back into sustainability ! The current ecologic / economic trend is going to force everyone to pay out from their own resources to switch to something that is only going to cost more to transfer to. That means cheap fueled transportation is traded for costly electric requiring the most massive recycling program ever seen to procure resource materials from out dated technology. That in itself is going to produce a major pollutant problem we will be forced to address if possible. This planet has faced numerous mass extinctions not from human activity and from humans in the last few centuries and the record shows it will continue until the planet is another lifeless mass in the universe because as time on a universal scale will put the planet in a zone where life will not be possible. So faced with that, why would anyone that is making a fortune during their life be concerned about anything after their life? Unless any efforts undertaken at present will bolster their wealth presently. It’s all a big hoax to cause panic and brainwashing. I used to think different when I was younger and thought I could make even a tiny difference and I did for a very short time. Now I can see it doesn’t matter because I learned my life has a limit and it is getting limited more faster than I care to think. As King Solomon said way back, whatever you attempt to do with and in your life, be about it with all your efforts because it is all in vain ! The only salvation is going to be in a resurrection if their is to be one, I hope there is, I’m trying desperately to believe there will be one. It’s getting pretty hard to maintain faith anymore.

    1. Farming has been done differently before and it may be again…

      Back in the days of steam, engines of sufficient power were too big to go across the field and back, so they sat either side of it and pulled the plow or other implements back and forth with a cable and pulleys.

      If all the fuel was gone, either you could do that with something with a semi trailer sized battery either end, or run power lines every other field or two, that you could hook up to more statically than the image of a corded electric mower which might appear if you think of an electric combine, and run the cable and pulleys across the same.

          1. How many of those existed before pneumatic tires?

            Since were talking about not sinking into mud with a heavy tractor, you’re two practical choices are tracks and tires.

            Wooden wheels were right out.

      1. If all the fuel was gone, where are you getting your electrical power? We do not have enough wind, solar, nuclear and hydro to meet today demands. Where are you getting the energy to mine for that massive amount of minerals you need for those batteries? Back in the days of steam we also were not producing nearly the amount of food we are today.

        I am really getting tired of hearing about all the push to move to electric vehicles before we have a grid or electrical capacity to support it. You also cannot get away from fossil fuels to heat homes in the Northern latitudes unless you get substantially cheaper electricity and have a grid to deliver the additional loads of millions of homes.

        With today’s energy prices our government is suggesting the answer is electric vehicles knowing full well that the infrastructure does not exist to support them.

        1. This. 100% this. This massive push for the “solution” to our issues is everyone going out and buying a $60,000 plug in electric car. Meanwhile, Texas is facing blackouts due to extra demand from the hot summer, and California, as usual, continues their rolling blackouts to prevent grid failure. Remind me again, what percentage of the US power grid is supplied by fossil fuels? They won’t let us build any new nuclear facilities, existing facilities continue to age offline. Electrify-everything may be the answer, it may be the future, but it’s just not remotely realistic anytime in the foreseeable future the way things stand.

  3. Amused am I on the dilemma of used cooking oil.
    Any low grade fuel creates issues of reliability.
    Granted the “Chemical Treating” will raise the energy density so the Air Bus will remain aloft, but still.

    In a bus or truck, bio-diesel (cooking oil) needs to be heated to operate even close to diesel.
    I built and maintained some turbines using low quality CH4, sucked from landfills.
    It was such low quality (BTU Wise) the we were required to start and heat up the turbines on diesel and then switch over to the gas.
    Kerosene, (JP fuels) has Flash point 38 °C (100 °F; 311 K)
    Auto ignition temperature 210 °C (410 °F)
    Untreated oil, (I need to know what exact oil as they all vary) has a much higher vapor point.

    Sad to say some actually invested funds with Madoff.

    As they say, “If It Works, It Ships”.

    1. I once tried to light a fire with newspaper which was wet, it didn’t work. Since that is made from woodpulp this single anecdote obviously proves the impossibility of ever using bio sourced fuels, the end.

      ;-)

      1. Yore end is near as they say.. The college classes I taught involved many “Alternative Fuels” and utilizing used cooking oils managed to get a head start back on our east coast. They ended up cornering most of the market in available oils, and provided a reliable source of bio-diesel. A low mix of diesel and bio had the best results. Straight bio was an issue due to the low BTU value and the high vapor point.

        I wonder if the monkey motion needed to create JP quality fuel will end up being cost efficient.
        If it works, it ships..

        1. Of course the craze now is air frying so your days of used cooking oils are numbered. There is nowhere near enough scale for that to become a big deal. Since the quantities of biofuel from cooking oils is so low, you might as well use it in trucks and ground applications. No need to apply it to critical things like aircraft.

    2. I ran a million miles on used cooking oil.
      Two things brought it to an end.
      1) business jumping on it, buying it in bulk and using chemicals to transform it into something beyond what it was (used veg oil) in order to use it for green washing in new vehicles.
      I just used it as is in IDI engines.
      2) Better wages and thus my time spent on other things was more valuable than making cheaper fuel.

      but mostly 1.

  4. OK, on a different note: cornseed at high pressure expells veggie oil. Sell that for french fries, recycle it later for some kerosene/ diesel. Use the expelled seed for something else like either food or some organic chemical or even quasi fertilizer. Problem is not enough now in process for whatever nefarious cablistic satanic reason to not do this and petroleum is still too cheap to avoid. Is it perfect? No but that’s a start which is better than wailing and renting one’s garment

    1. Well, as you know, there exists more than one type of corn being grown these days.
      One type is destined to be cattle feed, (Silage) and the other for human consumption.
      And for the record, the cows eat the green parts, not the ear of corn.
      and read the label on your next bottle of cooking oil. You may not be buying what you think.
      Any plant based oil can have different vapor points,
      buyers seek out culinary oils that are mechanically pressed from the seed without using chemical solvents. These also are referred to as “expeller pressed.” Olive, avocado and walnut oils, for example, are from soft fruit or nuts that need only expeller pressing and centrifuging. They may be labeled “cold-pressed.” Hard oilseeds, such as soy or canola, usually require some pre-treatment such as steam before pressing but the brands at PCC still do not rely on chemical solvents. In contrast, mass-market oils generally are extracted with toxic solvents such as hexane. These oils then undergo harsh treatment to remove the solvent. More chemicals, very high heat, and straining are used to deodorize and bleach the oils — rendering them inferior in taste, fragrance, appearance and especially nutritional quality.

      Buyer beware.

  5. Don’t need more crops planted to drain soils for fuel.

    I’m still waiting to put my money on a company that successfully produce and maintain viable small and mobile nuclear power generators that can be used wherever.

      1. I keep a bottle for urine in my woodshop. It saves tracking sawdust into the house when nature calls. The bottle gets emptied into the compost heap to supply nitrogen to the bacteria that breaks down cellulose.

  6. Cooking oil from plants grown with fertilizers produced using fossil fuels (one way or the other)? As the saying goes, “A little knowledge is a dangerous thing.”, or in this case simply embasising… 90% of the climate and sustainability “industry” is an elaborate fraud designed to dupe those who are so busy watching Netflix that they haven’t got time to notice reality.

    If you want sustainable aviation fuel you do what the US Navy does, take the electricity produced by their nuclear reactors and drive a cell that takes H from H2O and C from CO2 dissolved in seawater to produce pure synthetic hydrocarbons. The sea is the largest CO2 sink anyway so it is the best place to be extracting the carbon for fuel production. Anyway there will never be enough waste oil to run the aviation industry, it is just a sideshow for the easily appeased and decidedly delusional.

  7. Can’t these jets maintain altitude on only one engine? Not sure what a flight test shows with one engine spinning on alternate fuel that a terrestrial test bed cannot do. Other than marketing.

      1. Craig raises a vaild point. The press release reads: “The flight lasted about three hours, operating one Rolls-Royce Trent 900 engine on 100% SAF.” Were the other 3 engines at normal throttle, burning standard aviation fuel the whole time? If so, the other engines are not “backups,” but doing most of the work. Since the 100% refers to the type of fuel, and not the total percentage of SAF being burned during the flight, it is not even clear what happened here.

  8. The future is not plant based or recycled cooking oils, the future is e-fuel from captured CO2 and green Hydrogen, this one derived from water using solar, wind or nuclear energy. YES we also need to reactivate Nuclear, but fast breeder nuclear reactor that can be fuelled from nuclear waste of standard reactors. In addition pure Green Hydrogen can be used in airplanes with electric turbines through fuel cells. Future is green we only need to convince customers to pay more when they use greener and carbon neutral fuels for transportation.

  9. I imagine software would need to be modified to account for presumably lower energy per mass of veg oil fuel compared to petro fuel. For example throttle position relative to thrust, etc.

  10. Cooking oil isn’t the only source of SAF. Wood biomass and household waste are used too, and are in far more plentiful supply. The fact this only contributes 2% to the overall total doesn’t make it greenwashing, and there’s a risk that by labelling legitimate efforts to tackle the carbon problem as ‘greenwashing’, you’re disincentivising actual progress.

  11. Green washing to the extreme. There are plenty of applications right here on the ground. Heating homes, fueling trucks, fueling commercial and industrial equipment, all of the industrial heating processes. No need to get to aircraft yet. Let’s get the easy stuff done first. This is just a PR event to show how “green” Airbus is. No way this can scale to power even 10% of aircraft.

    1. Do you know how long it takes to get something commercial air flight certified?

      The reporter screwed up a simple R&D story by adding a stupid clickbait headline. Just as trained.

      RR is testing one of their engines with pure veg oil. Being a turbine, you can bet it will work. But would you bet your life?

      Electric aircraft? That’s pure marketing BS. For now, give batteries a century and who knows. But we know aircraft on Li batteries aren’t viable at human transport scale.

  12. Only one sustainable solution. Use less energy! It is really discouraging to read the comments so fare. They are not about using less. Almost all are about using more and how hard it will be for the renewable sources to deliver to the usage crave.

    In the hacker spirit. Start small. Change your habits. Run your gaming and networked gear on locally produced renewable energy. Solar, wind or methane from your own waste. Hack your travel habits. Change your shower (hot water) habits. Hack your lifestyle to use less energy.

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