Air New Zealand tests jatropha biofuel blend

By Susanne Retka Schill | January 01, 2009
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Web exclusive posted Dec. 30, 2008, at 2:08 p.m. CST

Air New Zealand successfully tested jatropha-based biofuel Dec. 30 in a jet flight around Auckland, New Zealand. The flight was a joint initiative between Air New Zealand, The Boeing Co., Rolls-Royce PLC and UOP LLC, a Honeywell company. One of four Rolls-Royce engines in an Air New Zealand Boeing 747-400 was powered by a biofuel blend.

The biofuel-flight partnership set three criteria for the test flight. The fuel source had to be environmentally sustainable and not compete with existing food resources. Secondly, the jet fuel had to be a drop-in replacement for traditional jet fuel and technically be at least as good as the fuel ordinarily used by the airline industry. And finally, the fuel should be cost competitive with existing fuel supplies and be readily available.

India-based Terasol Energy sourced the jatropha from southeastern Africa and India and certified the oil met the partners' sustainability criteria which included: the land where the jatropha was grown was neither forest land nor virgin grassland within the previous two decades; the quality of the soil and climate was not suitable for the vast majority of food crops; and the crop was rain fed and not mechanically irrigated.

The crude jatropha oil was processed using UOP's proprietary hydro-processing technology, which creates a hydrocarbon similar in properties to petroleum-based jet fuel. The biofuel was then blended with conventional jet fuel to create a 50 percent blend which was tested over several days by both Rolls-Royce and scientists at the Sunbury Technology Center in the United Kingdom.

The flight test schedule included testing engine parameters in one engine running on biofuel compared to the other three engines running on conventional jet fuel. The high and low power tests included a full thrust take off, varying climb power settings, engine acceleration tests, as well as shut down and relights in flight and on the ground. The tests will confirm the fuel's energy levels, specific gravity, economic value and fuel use per mile flown.

The flight was initially scheduled for Dec. 3, but was postponed after a Nov. 27 crash of an Air New Zealand A320 Airbus off the south coast of France.

More information is available on the Air New Zealand flight at:

The Air New Zealand flight is one of a series of test flights being undertaken by various airlines. Japan Airline has a test flight scheduled for Jan. 30 using a biofuel blend, with camelina comprising 84 percent of the biofuel, along with jatropha and a small amount of algae oil. JAL's partners in the tests include Boeing and UOP. The flight will use Pratt & Whitney jet engines in a JAL-owned Boeing 747-300.
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