Courier giant ushers in ‘future of aviation’ with biofuels drive

FedEx intends to use a blend of biofuel produced from sustainably-farmed woodchips to reduce its carbon emissions. [US Dept. of Agriculture/Flickr]

The world’s largest express transportation company, FedEx, is pioneering the use of sustainable aviation fuels through a new partnership which will see millions of gallons of biofuel produced from waste wood biomass. EURACTIV’s partner reports.

FedEx, which operates a fleet of more than 600 aircraft, has forged an agreement with a Colorado-based firm to purchase alternative jet fuel, which will support FedEx in its pledge to obtain 30% of jet fuel from alternative sources by 2030.

As detailed in FedEx’s 2016 Global Citizenship Report, the delivery company will be supplied with 3 million gallons of biofuel a year. This will be blended to provide seven million gallons of alternative jet fuel annually between 2017 and 2024, meaning at least 48 million gallons of biofuel will be produced under the agreement.

The company’s chief executive Frederick Smith said: “As a heavy user of fossil fuels, we know how important it is to reduce our consumption and make trade-related energy more sustainable. Respect for our environment makes this an imperative. And reducing reliance on oil lessens the market volatility that slows growth.”

Aviation biofuels: A pie in the sky?

Airlines have committed to ramping up their use of biofuels in the belief that they can contribute to achieving the sector's pledges on carbon-neutral growth. For 2050, the EU foresees 40% use of "sustainable low carbon fuels" in aviation.

FedEx’s commitment to jet biofuel is a welcome response to concerning evidence that aviation carbon emissions are in danger of growing dramatically over the coming decades, without tangible targets from governments to reduce carbon rates.

In September 2015, a New Climate Economy report revealed that, while the world’s aviation and maritime sectors are currently responsible for around 5% of global emissions, that figure is growing rapidly and total emissions between the two sectors could rise by as much as 250% by 2050. Crucially, both the shipping and aviation industries were notable exclusions in the final draft of the Paris climate agreement.

Despite the firm’s efforts to reduce the environmental impacts across its global air and ground transportation operations, FedEx’s total greenhouse gas emissions actually rose last year, by almost 3% from 2014 levels to 16.8 million CO2 metric tons. According to its report, this emissions increase is largely due to the fact that FedEx experienced growth in goods delivery across all of its operating companies, including a 2.7% rise in daily package volumes.

More positively, the report revealed that FedEx increased vehicle fuel efficiency by 4% in 2015, cumulatively increasing efficiency by more than 33.5% from a 2005 baseline – surpassing the company’s original goal of a 30% reduction by 2020.

Late publication of biofuels study raises questions

The European Commission has finally published the Globiom Study on the indirect land use change [ILUC], which it had kept secret and unavailable during the public consultation period for the Renewable Energy Directive for the period 2020-2030.

Another of FedEx’s environmental goals – to expand on-site energy generation and continue to procure renewable energy for facilities – saw the firm save 4,613 metric tons of CO2 last year. In 2015, five new solar energy systems were brought online, increasing FedEx’s on-site energy generation capacity by more than 5.5MW, the report notes.

Trusting that a wider adoption of advanced vehicle technology will play a critical role in reducing FedEx’s emissions, the firm aims to upgrade to cleaner, more efficient models where possible. Under a fleet upgrade programme, the report reveals that FedEx invested in an expansion of its alternative-fuel vehicle fleet to almost 1,900 in 2015, just under twice the amount of the previous year.

Electric vehicles (EVs) have formed a central pillar of FedEx’s alternative-fuel vehicle drive, with the group’s EV fleet expanded from 404 in 2014 to 1,176 last year. However, the company did lament the fact that currently there is no manufacturer with the capacity to help them scale up to the extent desired.

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