There are many jet fuel suppliers, some supplying smaller niche markets for corporate and private aviation, others fuelling the larger airlines and their fleets and military aircraft.
The fuel that the plane carries is often the heaviest part of its load and the further its range, the more fuel the aircraft must carry. At take off and landing there is a heavy draw on the fuel to provide lift off and deceleration.
Aviation fuel is usually a higher quality product than the average road fuel. It needs to be able to cope with risks such as icing in very low temperatures or explosion in very high temperatures – risks that are controlled by the use of specialist additives. The fuel also has to provide low emissions and fuel economy.
Major aviation fuel users moving to sustainable supplies
Major refineries often have underground pipes that supply aviation fuel to large airports and much jet fuel is then resold via various companies. However, very large users such as British Airways, have individual agreements with suppliers. Recently, BA has said that it will be entering a partnership to set up waste plants capable of converting household rubbish into renewable jet fuel.
Plastic, nappies and packaging will be converted into clean-burning fuel, helping the airline to reduce its carbon emissions. The jet fuel produced by the plant will deliver a 60% reduction in greenhouse gases in comparison with fossil fuels. That will equate to 60,000 tonnes of C02 savings a year and it will also help to reduce pollution around airports. Obviously, the fuel needs to be as safe in operation as current fuels, and testing will need to be carried out independently, both on the fuels and on the effectiveness of any additives.
BA is planning on developing several of these sustainable jet fuel plants. The Department of Transport has included sustainable jet fuel in its incentive scheme for renewable transport fuels, so this may be a sensible business decision for BA.
A range of fuel characteristics
Meanwhile, oil majors, such as ExxonMobil, continue to develop fuels that are delivered via a complex infrastructure of fuel depots, pipes and terminals that ensure that the travel industry, the military and private users have access to competitively priced fuel at the point at which they need it.
The fuel is manufactured according to several standards, with a range of about 30 characteristics that it adheres to. These can include acidity, flash point, freeze and boiling points, density, viscosity, sulphur, and many others. Specialist additives and lubricants are added to jet fuels, and batches are tested several times to ensure rigorous standards are being maintained.
Shell also supplies jet fuel, for the UK, US, Soviet Union, Chinese and East European markets, as well as other markets across the world.
The development of sustainable jet fuel may mean a need for innovative types of additive and lubricants, to maintain safe and economic performance for aircraft