Sunday, January 4, 2009
Due to the poor EO/EI ratio of biofuel and its competition with food crops, most of us are skeptical about widespread use of biofuel to meet transportation needs. However, air transportation is one of the few sectors where finding alternative energy sources is difficult. So, the recent and forthcoming tests of various biofuels in the air transportation sector are noteworthy, especially when strict conditions are placed on biofuel production. In one recent test, Air New Zealand set three requirements for sustainable biofuel:
(1) the fuel source must be environmentally sustainable and not compete with existing food resources;
(2) the fuel must be a drop-in replacement for traditional jet fuel and technically be at least as good as the product used today; and
(3)the fuel must be cost competitive with existing fuel supplies and be readily available.
A passenger jet with one of its four engines running on a biofuel blend today completed the world's first commercial aviation test flight to test a biofuel made from jatropha. The test flight was a joint initiative with partners Boeing, Rolls-Royce and Honeywell's UOP. The two hour Air New Zealand test flight was powered by a second-generation biofuel made from the seeds of the jatropha plant that could reduce emissions and cut costs. The flight was the first to use jatropha jatropha seed oil as part of a biofuel mix [50% jatropha, 50% jet fuel]....
Air New Zealand test plane (Photo courtesy Air New Zealand)
Jatropha seed pods (Photo courtesy Air New Zealand)
Jatropha is a plant that produces seeds that contain inedible lipid oil that is used to produce the fuel. Each seed produces 30-40 percent of its mass in oil and jatropha can be grown in a range of difficult conditions, including arid and otherwise non-arable areas, leaving prime areas available for food crops....
The jatropha used on Tuesday's flight was grown in Malawi, Mozambique and Tanzania, the airline said. The criteria for sourcing the jatropha oil required that the land was neither forest land nor virgin grassland within the previous two decades.
Jatropha grows on poor soil and in arid climates not suitable for most food crops. The jatropha farms that grew the seeds for this test flight are rain-fed and not mechanically irrigated.
The test flight partners engaged Terasol Energy, a leader in sustainable jatropha development projects, to independently source and certify that the jatropha-based fuel for the flight met all sustainability criteria. Once received from Terasol Energy, the jatropha oil was refined through a collaborative effort between Air New Zealand, Boeing and refining technology developer UOP. The process utilized UOP technology to produce jet fuel that can serve as a direct replacement for traditional petroleum jet fuel.
Air New Zealand aims to meet 10 percent of its fuel needs through sustainable biofuel by 2013. In February, Virgin Atlantic was the first airline to test a commercial aircraft on a biofuel blend, using a 20 percent mixture of coconut oil and babassu oils in one of its four engines. In January, two more airlines will test their biofuel blends. Continental Airlines on January 7 will conduct a test flight powered by a blend involving algae and jatropha. The flight will be the first biofuel flight by a commercial carrier using algae as a fuel source, the first using a two-engine aircraft, and the first biofuel demonstration flight of a U.S. commercial airliner. On January 30, Japan Airlines is planning a test flight from Tokyo using a fuel based on the camelina oilseed as a way to cut greenhouse gas emissions.