The limited amount of wastes and residues globally will make it impossible for airlines to avoid using virgin vegetable oils if they adopt aviation biofuel on a large scale, according to a new report from Biofuelwatch published on 11 February

“So far, airlines have only been using small amounts of biofuels and, for those, they have been able to rely mainly on residues and waste as feedstocks,” said report author Almuth Ernsting. “Yet the only – medium-sized – refinery that produces aviation biofuels today is already running out of tallow and therefore has to resort to lower quality wastes and residues which are in even shorter supply. To scale up their use of biofuels, airlines will have no choice but to resort to palm oil, and this would be disastrous for the climate, for forests, and for forest-dependent communities.”

The report focused on US renewable fuel supplier WorldEnergy’s refinery in Paramount, California, currently the only regular producer of biofuels for aircrafts. WorldEnergy’s customers include the airlines KLM, United Airlines, Singapore Airlines, along with aircraft manufacturing company, Gulfstream and Olso Airport.

Biofuels from the Paramount refinery had so far been made with from tallow (animal fat) but WorldEnergy was now planning to diversify into used cooking oil (UCO) and corn oil residue because of the scarcity of tallow, the report said.

Biofuelwatch calculated that using all the tallow worldwide could only supply 1.7% of global aviation fuel burned in 2016.

“Converting all UCO that can be realistically collected in the EU and USA would meet just 0.16% of US aviation fuel and 0.26% of EU aviation fuel use respectively. The total amount of corn oil residue is even smaller than that of used cooking oil,” Biofuelwatch wrote. “Furthermore, diverting more than the most contaminated types of tallow from animal feed, soap production and food results in greater palm oil use as a replacement. Diverting corn oil residue from animal feed to biofuels leads to more soya oil being fed to cattle, and thus greater emissions from land use change.”