Air New Zealand claims findings from biofuel test flight show significant reductions in fuel burn and emissions
Air New Zealand B747-400 takes off on biofuel test flight
Thu 28 May 2009 – Scientific testing following the biofuel flight conducted by Air New Zealand in December last year suggests that up to 1.4 tonnes of fuel and 4.5 tonnes of CO2 can be saved on 12-hour, 5,800-nautical mile long-haul flight powered by a 50/50 blend of second generation jatropha sustainable jet biofuel and traditional Jet A1. This represents a 1.2% cut in fuel burn, and at shorter ranges fuel burn would improve by 1% using the same blend. Overall savings from bio-derived jet fuels are estimated to be a 60-65% reduction in GHG emissions relative to petroleum-derived jet fuel.
The Rolls-Royce RB211-powered Boeing 747-400 test flight using a 50/50 jatropha biofuel blend in one of the four engines was a joint initiative between Air New Zealand, Boeing, Rolls-Royce and Honeywell’s UOP.
The biofuel test programme included extensive on-the-ground and in-flight tests of the engine and aircraft components. During the flight test, analysis was carried out at various altitudes and under a variety of operating conditions to measure the biofuel’s performance through the engine and fuel systems.
The report prepared by Air New Zealand, Boeing and Rolls-Royce to analyse the data collected through the flight says the biofuel selected has demonstrated the potential for use as a drop-in replacement to Jet A1 at a blend ratio of up to 50/50. The report found that the performance improvements gained by the biofuel were due to its higher net heat of combustion.
Air New Zealand says the data from the flight test programme will now be published to various industry bodies for evaluation with a view to achieving approval of this and similar biofuel products as alternatives to existing Jet A1.
The airline claims the report should also give those drafting fuel certification regulations more confidence to push ahead and reduce the timeline for certification of a bio-derived drop-in jet fuel to occur. “Certainly the data from our biofuel test flight will be a critical component towards helping biofuel become a certified aviation fuel,” commented Captain David Morgan, Air New Zealand’s General Manager, Airline Operations and Chief Pilot.
“There is a great deal to be done by the industry as a whole and Air New Zealand will continue to lend its support.
“We currently have a team looking at several different biofuel options. We remain committed to our ambition of having 10% of our fuel needs by 2013 met by alternative fuels, but appreciate there are many more steps to be taken by experts in other areas to deliver biofuel as a commercial aviation fuel source.”
Morgan revealed the test results at the Eco-Aviation conference presented by Air Transport World (ATW) and Leeham Co in Washington DC. He said jatropha may not be the most ideal feedstock for the airline as it cannot be grown in New Zealand. He also cautioned that there is no imminent ‘silver bullet’ regarding biofuel and there may be too much ‘hype’.
This was echoed by another speaker at the conference, Richard Altman, Executive Director of the Commercial Aviation Alternative Fuels Initiative (CAAFI), who said much of the hype about biofuels was well-founded. He believed expectations may be too high for certain feedstocks such as algae and cautioned that although it “looks good on paper” there was still a lack of knowledge on its potential.
Altman also told the conference that developing sustainable feedstocks for biofuels was critical but warned that serious challenges lay ahead, particularly the requirement for investment.