Iberia Flies First Flight Powered By Spanish Biofuel

Spanish national flag carrier Iberia and Spanish energy and petrochemical company Repsol have partnered to make the first flight with biofuel produced by Spanish waste. The fuel for the flight was produced at Repsol’s Petronor refinery in Bilbao.

Iberia Flies First Flight Powered By Spanish Biofuel
Iberia uses electric-powered vehicles Photo; Iberia

The flight used for the test was a regularly scheduled service between Bilbao Airport (BIO) and Adolfo Suárez Madrid–Barajas Airport (MAD) on November 3, 2021. Iberia flight number IB426 using an Airbus A320neo made the first flight in Spain powered by biofuel produced from waste.

Only 1.84% of the fuel was bio

While it sounds impressive to talk about a flight powered by biofuel, the facts are that only 1.84% of fuel in the aircraft’s tanks was biofuel. The other 98.16% consisted of traditional aviation fuel. Currently, regulations allow airlines to use small percentages of biofuels to power aircraft. The European Commission wants to see airlines using 2% of their fuel needs from sustainable fuels by 2025, rising to 5% in 2030, and 63% in 2050.

Iberia A320neo
The A320neo is one of Iberia’s most efficient aircraft. Photo: Iberia

While these may seem like minuscule percentages, in the beginning, they represent a total transformation of the way aircraft will be fueled in the future. The fuel produced for the flight was a part of a batch that Petronor refined in August from waste oil and fat obtained from the agri-food company Lipsa in Barcelona.

It costs five times more to produce biofuel

Before the waste arrived at Petronor’s refinery near Bilbao, chemical industry waste recovery company Oleofat treated the waste so that it could be turned into biofuel at the Muskiz refinery. Until biofuel is manufactured on an industrial scale, it will cost five times more to produce than traditional aviation fuel.

Repsol has opted to use its Basque subsidiary Petronor to build a green synthetic fuel factory with net-zero emissions in the Port of Bilbao. Scheduled to open in 2024, the plant will produce more than 2,100 tons of fuel that can be used to power cars, trucks, and airplanes.

In a statement released by Iberia about the biofuel flight, the airline says that thanks to the A320neos efficiency and biofuel use, it reduced carbon emissions by 1.4 tons. In addition to the biofuel, all ground activities connected with the flight, including refueling, were performed by electric vehicles. As far as aircraft are concerned, powering them with hydrogen would require a technological advance. Iberia says that as it looks to become greener, biofuels are the fastest and more efficient option to reduce emissions in the coming years.

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Iberia is developing an environmental strategy

When speaking in the company statement about how Iberia intends to develop an environmental strategy, the airline says it is based on three pillars:

  • More efficient operations the renewal of its fleet, a reduction in fuel consumption, and the electrification of vehicles
  • A more sustainable travel experience for customers through digitalization, the removal of plastics, and waste management
  • Collaboration in the research and development of sustainable fuels
Iberia is developing an environmental strategy. Photo: Iberia

As things stand, there is still a lot of work to do with the development and use of biofuels in commercial aviation. IAG, the owner of Iberia, says that it is committed to operating 10% of all flights with sustainably sourced fuel by 2030.

What do you think about using biofuel to power aircraft? Please tell us your thoughts in the comments.