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BERLIN, March 31 (Reuters) - Dutch carrier KLM on Thursday launched the first in a series of 80 flights from Oslo to Amsterdam using a biofuels blend to power an Embraer E190 jet, in a boost for the biofuels industry that has been held back by weak oil prices.
The flights will run over a period of five to six weeks and use about 200 tonnes of blended biofuel in a mix of 47 percent neat biofuel and 53 percent fossil fuel, according to SkyNRG, which sources, blends and distributes sustainable jet fuel.
Oslo Airport became the first airport in the world to offer jet biofuels to all airlines in January and Lufthansa Group was the first to sign up to use a biofuels mix in its flights from the Norwegian capital. It plans to fuel around 5,000 flights over the course of a year.
KLM, part of the Franco-Dutch Air France-KLM group, said its limited number of flights using biofuel was restricted by its budget and the amount of fuel that was available.
The flights are being partly funded by partners in the KLM Corporate BioFuel Programme, including the City of Amsterdam and Dutch companies such as ABN Amro and Heineken.
"After those flights we will evaluate and see what is the next step," a spokeswoman said.
Europe is targeting annual production of 2 million tonnes of sustainably produced biofuel for civil aviation by 2020, but authorities say limited production means it is unlikely this goal will be reached.
"For the coming years, the price gap between sustainable and fossil jet fuel remains the biggest challenge to create a stable market for sustainable jet fuel," Maarten van Dijk, CEO of SkyNRG said in a statement on Thursday.
The fuel in use at Oslo airport is produced by Neste from the camelina plant and made available by Air BP, the aviation division of BP, and broker SkyNRG.
Biofuels have been the subject of much debate as to how environmentally friendly they are, with some sources such as palm oil coming under fire for taking up land that could be used to grow crops to feed people.
Advocates say camelina's advantages are that it can be grown on land not suitable for food crops and after being pressed for oil, the remaining by-product can be fed to livestock. (Reporting by Victoria Bryan, editing by David Evans)