Jatropha-based biofuel cleared for take-off on Air New Zealand test flight early next month
Air New Zealand B747-400
Thu 13 Nov 2008 – Air New Zealand and Boeing have announced that the world’s first flight using a second-generation biofuel will take place from Auckland on December 3. Derived from sustainably grown jatropha sourced from south-eastern Africa and India, the crude oil was converted to biojet fuel using fellow partner UOP’s processing technology. According to Rolls-Royce, the biofuel has met or exceeded all technical specifications during laboratory testing.
One of the four Rolls-Royce RB211 engines of an Air New Zealand 747-400 aircraft will carry the biofuel blended 50/50 with standard Jet A-1 kerosene in a performance test flight expected to last two hours.
“In preparation for the test flight we achieved our near-term goal – identifying and sourcing the first large-scale run of sustainable biofuel for commercial aviation,” commented Billy Glover, Managing Director of Environmental Strategy, Boeing Commercial Airplanes. “The processing technology exists today, and based on results we’ve seen, it’s highly encouraging that this fuel not only met but exceeded three key criteria for the next generation of jet fuel: higher than expected jet fuel yields, very low freeze point and good energy density.
“That tells us we’re on the right path to certification and commercial availability.”
Boeing is working with airlines and engine manufacturers to gather biofuel performance data as part of endeavours to revise the current ASTM standards to include fuels from sustainable plant sources.
The testing by Rolls-Royce confirmed the jatropha-based biofuel met the -47⁰C freeze point and 38⁰C flash point critical specifications.
“Laboratory testing showed the final blend had excellent properties, meeting and in many cases exceeding the stringent technical requirements for fuels used in civil and defence aircraft,” said Chris Lewis, Rolls-Royce company specialist for fuels. “The blended fuel therefore meets the essential requirement of being a ‘drop-in’ fuel, meaning its properties will be virtually indistinguishable from conventional fuel, Jet A-1, which is used in commercial aviation today.”
To process the jatropha crude, the team relied on UOP’s green jet fuel processing technology based on hydroprocessing methodologies that are commonly used to produce transportation fuels. During processing, hydrogen is added to remove oxygen from the biomass, resulting in a bio-derived jet fuel that can be used as a petroleum replacement for commercial aviation.
“We must diversify our fuel supply to meet the rapid growth in energy demand while effectively balancing social and environmental needs,” said Jennifer Holmgren, General Manager of UOP’s Renewable Energy and Chemicals business unit. “This team has stepped up to do something about the rapidly evolving energy landscape and, as a result, we could see viable commercial-scale production and usage of biofuels in the aviation industry in a matter of just a few years.”
Air New Zealand’s CEO, Rob Fyfe, said: “This flight strongly supports our efforts to be the world’s most environmentally responsible airline. We recently demonstrated the fuel and environmental gains that can be achieved through advanced operational procedures using Boeing 777s (see story). We’re also modernizing our fleet as we await our Trent 1000-powered 787-9 Dreamliners, which will burn 20% less fuel than the planes they replace. Introducing a new generation of sustainable fuels is the next logical step in our efforts to further save fuel and reduce aircraft emissions.”
Air New Zealand recently joined with Boeing, UOP and eight other airlines to form the Sustainable Aviation Fuel Users Group with the aim of accelerating the development and commercialization of sustainable new aviation biofuels (see story).