The full results of a test flight in which a commercial plane was flown on a combination of jet fuel and fruit-based biofuel have been made public. And they are good news for the environment.
Air New Zealand flew a Boeing plane on a fuel mix that was 50 percent biofuel derived from jatropha, a plum-sized fruit that is not farmed for human consumption. Using such a blend could improve fuel efficiency by more than one percent, saving 1.43 tonnes of fuel and cutting CO2 emissions by around 4.4 tonnes on an average 12-hour flight, the airline announced.
Captain David Morgan, General Manager of Airline Operations and Chief Pilot at Air New Zealand said that many more steps would have to be taken before biofuel could be in standard use in commercial aviation, but he was positive about the future for greener jet fuel.
“Certainly the data from our biofuel test flight will be a critical component towards helping biofuel become a certified aviation fuel,” he stated.
And the team at Boeing Commercial Airplanes, which has now been involved in four successful test flights using different biofuel blends, is confident that the technology is ready.
“We've proven the technical capability of biofuel as a drop-in replacement,” said Bill Glover, Managing Director of Environmental Strategy for Boeing. “It meets all jet fuel requirements and then some.”
According to Glover, it is now just a matter of growing sufficient quantities of suitable non-food plants and creating operations that can refine their oil in appropriate amounts and without negative environmental impact.
Air New Zealand obtained the jatropha oil for its test flight from Malawi, Mozambique, Tanzania and India. The jatropha seeds are crushed to produce the oil, which is then refined and combined with diesel. Other energy-packed plants being considered because they are not eaten as food and won’t displace food crops are algae and camelina, also known as false flax and traditionally cultivated to produce animal feed and vegetable oil. One test flight has also been made using a biofuel derived from coconut and babassu palm oil.
A full report on all four test flights will be released by Boeing next month, and Glover predicts that the first biofuels could be approved and replacing traditional jet fuels in commercial flights as early as next year.