Sustainability is top priority for Cathay when looking at biofuel options
On behalf of Cathay Pacific, I would like to respond to Professor Reinhard Renneberg's article ('Biofuels an idea that can really fly for airlines', January 22) and Gordon Andreassend's letter ('Cathay faces logistical problems', January 29).
Both pieces raised the 'food versus fuel' debate, better known as sustainability.
Cathay Pacific views sustainability as of paramount importance.
It is the first factor we assess when considering any new form of non-fossil-derived fuel which could potentially be used in our aircraft or ground vehicles, and is reviewed well before any costs or logistical issues are analysed in detail.
Cathay Pacific is a member of the Sustainable Aviation Fuels Users Group (SAFUG), which is a consortium of airlines formed in 2008 focused on accelerating the development and commercialisation of sustainable biofuels.
A key requirement of SAFUG members is a pledge to ensure that jet-fuel plant sources should be developed in a manner which is non-competitive with food, where biodiversity impacts are minimised and where cultivation of those plant sources should not jeopardise drinking water supplies.
Crops currently under consideration by Cathay are those which are non-edible and can grow on marginal land not suitable for food-crop cultivation.
We undertake our own due diligence when looking into the various feedstocks which are now viable options for conversion into jet fuel to ensure that the total-life-cycle greenhouse gas emissions, from plant growth, harvesting, processing, shipment and end-use, will be significantly reduced compared to those associated with fuels from fossil sources.
As highlighted by Professor Renneberg and Mr Andreassend, a key challenge for Cathay Pacific will be the cultivation of sustainable feedstock in sufficient quantities to allow the cost-effective introduction of biofuels for material volume usage.
Algae is one of several possible sources we are examining. However, even this promising source has its own challenges and attributes - it can, for example, be cultivated away from natural water supplies in a controlled environment and not just in fresh water or coastal areas as many people believe.
Algae and land-based crops are not the only option. Municipal waste (household, industrial, organic) from Hong Kong or from the Pearl River Delta could be converted into jet fuel and help reduce landfill and other environmental issues relating to waste incineration. Even used cooking oil can be converted into jet fuel.
Jeff Ovens, biofuel manager, Cathay Pacific Airways