On December 3rd, Air New Zealand will be the first commercial airline to power one of its jets with a second generation non-food biofuel made from the Jatropha plant. Jatropha is viewed as having a huge potential as a major source of oil for sustainable biofuel production.

The flight will be conducted using a 747-400 fitted with Rolls Royce engines. Rolls Royce has certified the fuel — a 50:50 blend of standard Jet A1 fuel and synthetic paraffinic kerosene derived from jatropha oil — as suitable to work with its engines. Chris Lewis, a fuels specialist with Rolls-Royce, said:

“Laboratory testing showed the final blend has excellent properties meeting, and in many cases exceeding, the stringent technical requirements for fuels used in civil and defence aircraft. The blended fuel therefore meets the essential requirement of being a ‘drop-in’ fuel, meaning its properties will be virtually indistinguishable from conventional Jet A1 fuel, which is used in commercial aviation today.”

The flight is a joint initiative between Air New Zealand, Boeing, and Rolls-Royce, among others, to help find suitable replacements for today’s jet fuels that are sustainable and have a lighter impact on the environment. The program partners state that their initiative must meet stringent goals:

  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.
  3. It should be cost competitive with existing fuel supplies and be readily available.

In their press release, Air New Zealand said the the Jatropha used to make the fuel came from South Eastern Africa (Malawi, Mozambique and Tanzania) and India. They also claim that the oil was produced from Jatropha seeds grown on “environmentally sustainable farms.”

Making jet fuel out of Jatropha oil was no small feat, and much work still has to be done to produce Jatropha oil in quantities that could make it commercially successful as a true replacement for jet fuel or biodiesel. But it’s getting there, and efforts like that of Air New Zealand are critical in making it happen.

Image Credit: Air New Zealand

Source: Press Release