The two hour Air New Zealand test flight was powered by a second-generation biofuel made from the seeds of the jatropha plant that could reduce emissions and cut costs. The flight was the first to use jatropha jatropha seed oil as part of a biofuel mix.
Air New Zealand test plane (Photo courtesy Air New Zealand)
The test flight took off from Auckland airport this morning with a biofuel blend of 50:50 jatropha and Jet A1 fuel powering one of the Air New Zealand Boeing 747-400's Rolls-Royce RB211 engines.
Pilot in command, Air New Zealand 747 Fleet Manager Captain Keith Pattie and his crew flew out over the wider Hauraki Gulf area.
After a full-power takeoff and ascent to 35,000 feet, they undertook a number of fuel tests confirming and measuring the performance of the engine and fuel systems at various altitudes and under a variety of operating conditions.
Air New Zealand Chief Executive Rob Fyfe called the flight "a milestone for the airline and commercial aviation."
"Today we stand at the earliest stages of sustainable fuel development and an important moment in aviation history," said Fyfe.
The test flight was a joint initiative with partners Boeing, Rolls-Royce and Honeywell's UOP in a drive for more sustainable air travel for future generations, said the airline in a statement.
Jatropha seed pods (Photo courtesy Air New Zealand)
Jatropha is a plant that produces seeds that contain inedible lipid oil that is used to produce the fuel. Each seed produces 30-40 percent of its mass in oil and jatropha can be grown in a range of difficult conditions, including arid and otherwise non-arable areas, leaving prime areas available for food crops.
Air New Zealand and its partners have been non-negotiable about the three criteria any environmentally sustainable fuel must meet for the test flight program.
First, the fuel source must be environmentally sustainable and not compete with existing food resources.
Second, the fuel must be a drop-in replacement for traditional jet fuel and technically be at least as good as the product used today.
Finally, it should be cost competitive with existing fuel supplies and be readily available.
The jatropha used on Tuesday's flight was grown in Malawi, Mozambique and Tanzania, the airline said. The criteria for sourcing the jatropha oil required that the land was neither forest land nor virgin grassland within the previous two decades.
Air New Zealand's Capt. David Morgan with vials of jatropha oil and Air New Zealand's biofuel blend. (Photo courtesy Air New Zealand)
Jatropha grows on poor soil and in arid climates not suitable for most food crops. The jatropha farms that grew the seeds for this test flight are rain-fed and not mechanically irrigated.
The test flight partners engaged Terasol Energy, a leader in sustainable jatropha development projects, to independently source and certify that the jatropha-based fuel for the flight met all sustainability criteria.
Once received from Terasol Energy, the jatropha oil was refined through a collaborative effort between Air New Zealand, Boeing and refining technology developer UOP. The process utilized UOP technology to produce jet fuel that can serve as a direct replacement for traditional petroleum jet fuel.
Air New Zealand aims to meet 10 percent of its fuel needs through sustainable biofuel by 2013.
In February, Virgin Atlantic was the first airline to test a commercial aircraft on a biofuel blend, using a 20 percent mixture of coconut oil and babassu oils in one of its four engines.
In January, two more airlines will test their biofuel blends. Continental Airlines on January 7 will conduct a test flight powered by a blend involving algae and jatropha. The flight will be the first biofuel flight by a commercial carrier using algae as a fuel source, the first using a two-engine aircraft, and the first biofuel demonstration flight of a U.S. commercial airliner.
On January 30, Japan Airlines is planning a test flight from Tokyo using a fuel based on the camelina oilseed as a way to cut greenhouse gas emissions.
Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2008. All rights reserved.