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LONDON: October 12, 2017. As the U.N. International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) held its second conference on alternative aviation fuels this week, nearly 100 NGOs and environmental organizations have called on its Member States to oppose the promotion of biofuels for the aviation industry as an alternative to hydrocarbons.

Citing U.N. data from 2016, the group says greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from international aviation grew by 87 percent between 1990 and 2014. In an attempt to mitigate the growing emissions effect, ICAO has proposed cutting the use of hydrocarbons by 50 percent by burning 285 million tonnes of biofuel a year by 2050.

Geneva AirportBiofuelwatch, which produced a report on behalf of the group, says the only way this target will be reached is by expanding monoculture growth of palm oil from which hydrotreated vegetable oil (HVO) can be derived to power aircraft.

In anticipation of this new market opportunity, by 2013 European investors had acquired six million hectares of land in sub-Saharan Africa for biofuel production that biofuelwatch claims will just lead to greater food price volatility, more deforestation, water pollution and "overall climate impacts which are no lesser than those of fossil fuel oil per tonne of fuel".

Rather than expand palm oil plantations to produce biofuel, the report suggests ICAO should discourage airline and airport industry growth and encourage countries to invest in other forms of transport including rail.

This week Richard Branson announced Virgin Group is investing in Hyperloop One – describing it as the world's most revolutionary train service. "This is an incredibly innovative and exciting new way to move people and things at airline speeds on the ground," he declared.

In September Finland-based Neste, a leading HVO producer from palm oil, announced it would supply its 'Renewable Jet Fuel' to operators at Geneva Airport (right). This followed a vote in June by the Norwegian Parliament to ban the use of palm oil-based public procurement of fuels for public transport in the country.

Also last month Velocys, a renewable fuels company, said it had partnered with British Airways and recycling company Suez to determine the feasibility of building a  waste-to-renewable-jet-fuel plant in the UK. A decision will be made in 2019.

Velocys said the plant would take post-recycled waste, destined for landfill or incineration, and convert it into a jet fuel that would produce 60 percent less GHG emissions and a 90 percent reduction in particulate matter emissions compared with conventional jet fuel. 

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