A new business which has opened its first UK operation at Birmingham Airport is paving the way for a greener aviation industry thanks to sustainable biofuel made from used cooking oil.
Platinum Fuels is a Dubai-based company founded by a team of former major oil company aviation fuel experts.
It has been set up to exploit what its chief executive officer describes as a gap in the market following moves by the big oil companies to back away from the aviation fuel business.
Although the sustainable biofuel represents only a small portion of its business at present, it is being tipped to become an increasingly popular option as airlines seek to reduce their carbon footprint and governments across the globe adopt a tougher stance on emissions from airliners.
Birmingham Airport is also the first UK airport to fly customers on sustainable biofuel, with Thomson Airways taking what has been dubbed ‘‘a bold move’’.
Explaining the reason for founding Platinum, chief executive Tim Collins said: “We saw the day would come when there would be opportunities in the marketplace with the withdrawal of the major oil companies from frontline fuel operations and it seemed the right time for us to put a company together.”
Between them the Platinum team have 60 years of aviation industry experience and Mr Collins believes it has a bright future.
“There are exciting opportunities at the moment for independent companies like ours. There’s a bit of a shift with major oil companies withdrawing from the front line.
“That opens the door for independent companies like us and that is what we are seeing around the world as a very common pattern.
“Airport companies and management companies are looking for expertise that is starting to disappear, partly because oil companies are not putting the investment in but airport companies are crying out for that expertise.”
Mr Collins said the choice of Birmingham to launch its UK operations was a strategic decision based on the airport’s ambitious growth plans and the fact regional airports throughout the country are likely to have an increasingly important role to play.
“The aviation industry is global and the UK is a very important cog in that industry,” he said. “We researched it pretty closely and I think there are unique opportunities for development and growth that don’t exist anywhere else in the UK.
“When you look at London, Heathrow is reaching capacity and regional airports must take a more proactive role.
“Looking at Birmingham and its demographics, they should have a big airport – and I know there is a masterplan and a lot of development planned which means Birmingham will become a significant player in the UK aviation market,’’ he said.
“It seems an ideal site for us to make a statement and to be partners for the airport. Fuel companies are often seen as the enemies but we want to be seen as partnering the airport and its growth strategy.’’
With Thomson launching its biofuel usage from Birmingham on a weekly flight to Palma, critics might suggest the sustainable option is little more than a drop in the ocean at the moment.
But Mr Collins clearly believes it is a step in the right direction, even if the additional cost means uptake might be slow.
“We have seen biofuel being made over the past few years but I think we are getting to the point in the timeline where it is becoming seriously viable. You will see more and more governments raising the bar and upping the ante with carbon footprint charges and fines,’’ he said.
“But the industry is responding too and there’s a lot of research and investment taking place in terms of finding a sustainable jet fuel.’’
Platinum’s own brand of sustainable biofuel comes from what might be considered an unlikely source – Amsterdam-based SkyNRG and sourced from Texas in the US.
“It is key that biofuel is sustainable and this fuel is derived from used cooking oil,” he said. “It is a 50 per cent blend with kerosene that has been approved by the industry regulating authorities.
“Two or three airlines are interested and KLM is already using it. While there is an inevitability I think we are a little way off seeing everyone using it,’’ Mr Collins said.
“But what this does is it raises the bar and raises people’s awareness of what can be done.
“It is still in its infancy and the technology has a little way to go before it becomes economically viable.”