FedEx plans to deliver ‘future of aviation’ with biofuels drive

The world's largest express transportation company 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.

FedEx, which operates a fleet of more than 600 aircraft, has forged an agreement with Colorado-based firm Red Rock Biofuels 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, Red Rock is now contracted with FedEx to supply three 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.

FedEx 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.

“We’re proud to work with this innovative company [Red Rock Biofuels], which converts scrap and forest waste to make fuel. The process contributes to smart forest management practices that reduce the intensity of forest fires. Innovations like this have the potential to help farmers and communities around the world turn waste into a new form of clean energy. Helping others replicate a waste-to-biofuel model could create sustainable local industries and new jobs near airports around the world.”

‘Future of aviation’

The pioneering collaboration will see Red Rock’s low-carbon biofuel power planes based at the FedEx Express Oakland hub, with the wood waste supplied by a sawmill company in Oregon that sustainably manages a 100,000-acre forest.

Red Rock chief executive Terry Kulesa was pleasantly surprised by the extent to which a ‘receptive’ FedEx bought into his company’s vision of biofuel as the future of aviation. He said: “I’m amazed at their foresight. FedEx is saying to airlines and the financial sector that this is the future of aviation fuel. We hope to build about 10 more plants in the next few years.”

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.

Fuel efficiency

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 CO2e metric tons (across scope 1, 2 and 3). According to the Citizenship 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.

The report goes on to highlight a series of industry-leading innovations that demonstrate the organisation’s commitment to reducing its environmental impact. Most notably, the report reveals 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.

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. Fedex’s global vehicles director Russ Musgrove explained that, while seeking to increase this EV fleet even more within the next 10 years, a shortage of manufacturers with sufficient capacity to supply the company with EVs is proving a stumbling block.

Musgrove said: “We have a couple of thousand routes that could be run with electric vehicles, but right now there’s no manufacturer with the capacity to help us scale up to that anytime soon. Fleets can’t produce the vehicles on their own – it’s going to take manufacturers to do this.”

Musgrove’s comments on the need for better EV supply comes just a week after fellow packaging and transportation giant UPS called on the UK Government to create a ‘level playing field’ by allowing the transport sector to create a better support system for vehicle electrification.

UPS’ director of sustainability for EMEA Peter Harris exclusively told edie that the company has hit roadblocks due to concerns over electric support assets and the availability of biofuels.

George Ogleby

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