Japan Airlines announces that it too will conduct a demonstration biofuel flight in January, the first in Asia
Camelina is an annual plant with seed pods the size and shape of a small pea. The seeds are very small, amounting to about 400,000 seeds per pound, and they are 40% oil (photo: Sustainable Oils)
Tue 16 Dec 2008 – Japan Airlines (JAL) has become the latest carrier to announce that it plans to carry out a biofuel-powered demonstration flight. Using a JAL-owned Pratt & Whitney JT9D-powered Boeing 747-300 aircraft, the biofuel flight will be the first in Asia and will test a blend made up of camelina, jatropha and algae. The one-hour demonstration flight out of Tokyo’s Haneda Airport is planned for January 30. JAL has been partnered in the project by Pratt & Whitney, the engine manufacturer’s first biofuel flight, Boeing and Honeywell’s UOP.
One of the aircraft’s four engines will be filled with a 50/50 blend of biofuel and traditional Jet A kerosene. The biofuel component will be a mixture of camelina (84%), jatropha (under 16%) and algae (under 1%). This will be the first use of camelina, also known as gold-of-pleasure or false flax and a distant relative of canola, which JAL describes as a second-generation energy crop because of its high oil content and ability to grow in rotation with wheat and other cereal crops. Originally hailing from northern Europe and Central Asia, Camelina is grown in more moderate climates such as the northern plains of the United States, and can be cultivated in dry areas, poor soil and at high altitudes.
The camelina has been sourced by Montana-based Sustainable Oils, a joint venture formed in November 2007 by Seattle-based Targeted Growth, a renewable energy bioscience company, and Houston-based Green Earth Fuels, a renewable biodiesel energy company. The company aims to produce and market up to 100 million gallons of camelina-based biodiesel by 2010, with nearly all of the initial camelina production expected to be grown in Montana.
The jatropha and algae feedstocks have been sourced from Terasol Energy and Sapphire Energy respectively. Both companies are also supplying the same feedstocks for the recently-announced Continental Airlines’ biofuel demonstration flight that is also due to take place in January (see story).
“Our feedstock selection was based on firm sustainability criteria designed to avoid the mistakes of preceding biofuel generations,” said Tim Rahmes, Boeing’s Biofuels Program Manager.
Greg Gernhardt, Pratt & Whitney’s Vice President, Commercial Engines & Global Services, Asia-Pacific Region, commented: “This biofuels programme is an important part of our company’s overall commitment to the environment. Over the past several months, we have worked together to secure, evaluate and ensure the safety and performance of this biofuel. We are excited to work together in the research and development of sustainable fuels for the future.”
The biojet fuel for the flight was converted by refining technology developer UOP and has been tested by Boeing, UOP and several independent laboratories to verify it met the required jet fuel specifications. Ground-based jet engine performance testing by Pratt & Whitney of similar fuels established that the biofuel blend met or exceeded standard performance criteria.
“The highest levels of safety will be adhered to throughout the whole biofuel demonstration flight,” explained Yasunori Abe, JAL’s Vice President, Environmental Affairs. “Prior to take-off, we will run the No. 3 engine (middle-right) using the fuel blend to confirm everything operates normally. In the air, we will check the engine’s performance during normal and non-normal flight operations, which will include quick accelerations and decelerations, and engine shutdown and restart.”
Once the flight has been completed, data recorded on the aircraft will be analyzed by Pratt & Whitney and Boeing engineers.
“We have been working with Boeing for a year to develop sustainable aviation fuel solutions and to ensure that enough data is generated to enable certification of the biofuels,” Jennifer Holmgren, UOP’s Director, Renewable Energy and Chemicals, told GreenAir Online. “That’s why the Air New Zealand, Continental and Japan Airlines demonstration flights are being coordinated and include the three key engine OEMs. I think Boeing has done a great job in coordinating them and ensuring a global reach for the demos as well as the involvement of key stakeholders.”
Holmgren stated that the feedstocks with the greatest potential as biojet fuels are cellulosics and algae, but the former are three to five years away and the latter eight to ten years. “So how do we get up the biofuels learning curve in the meantime without waiting for these next-generation feedstocks?” she said. “In my mind, it is through what I call the bridging feedstocks, such as jatropha and camelina. These have some of the second-generation attributes in that they don’t compete for arable land or water. They are not likely to be grown in enough quantities to substitute for even a small proportion of the overall transport pool but, in the near term, they could have a big impact in developing a biofuels infrastructure.”