Biofuel test flights by airlines increasing

  • Chicago (IL) - Airline usage of biofuels seems to be on a slow upswing, with several airlines recently testing alternative fuels to power their airplanes to various destinations. It looks as if all of these tests were, at least for the moment, only for research purposes.

    The most recent airlines involved in this biofuel testing, said the U.S. Department of Energy, included Air New Zealand, Continental Airlines and Japan Airlines. These three followed in the wake of a biofuel test early last year by Virgin Atlantic, which got a Boeing 747-400 from London to Amsterdam in about 40 minutes on a mix of Babassu and coconut oils. That particular flight reached an altitude of 25,000 feet.

    The Air New Zealand flight, conducted December 30, was a two hour test run out of Auckland, using a biofuel blend of 50:50 jatropha and Jet A1 fuel to power one of the plane's engines. Continental's biofuel test, done on January 7, worked off of one engine as well and was run out of Houston. The biofuel blend for that flight, mixed 50:50 with regular jet fuel, included components derived from algae and jatropha plants.

    As for the Japan Airlines flight, conducted on January 30, it too did a straight down the middle blend of regular jet fuel and biofuel. It was flown of out Tokyo for an hour-and-a-half, with the biofuel mixture consisting of amelina (84%), jatropha (under 16%), and algae (under 1%). No passengers were carried on any of these flights, which did a number of tests on systems to determine effectiveness of the fuel mixes. Boeing, among others, was involved in most of the tests.

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