Already financially challenged on a number of fronts, airlines have been in the crosshairs of government efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, particularly in the past year. That combined with recent years’ sharp spike in fuel prices has led to a flurry of activity on the part of airlines to develop and test cleaner alternative fuels.
Japan Air Lines on January 30 became the first to test fly an airliner on a combination of second generation biofuels derived from three feedstocks, 84% of which was derived from camelina, an oilseed crop and relative of mustard, cabbage and broccoli that’s traditionally been used to produce vegetable oil and animal feed.
Montana’s Sustainable Oils supplied the camelina biofuel for JAL’s test flight. The other biofuels were refined from jatropha (<16%) and algae (<1%).
Flying on Biofuel
The one-and-a-half hour demo flight saw a JAL Boeing 747-300 take off from and return to Tokyo’s Haneda airport using a combination of 50% biofuel and 50% conventional Jet-A jet fuel in its No. 3 middle right engine.
Airlines have been rushing to test biofuels this past year. Virgin Airlines tested a 20% mix of coconut and babassu oil supplied by Imperium Renewables last February on a Boeing 747 that flew from London to Amsterdam.
Last month, Air New Zealand and industry partners retooled one of a Boeing 747-400’s four Rolls-Royce RB211 engines to run on a 50-50% mix of Jet A1 and jatropha biofuel supplied by Terasol Energy. The blend was used on a two-hour test flight out and back to an Auckland airport.
Also in January, Continental became the first major US airline to test a biofuel mix. Continental tested a 50-50% mix of jatropha-algae biofuel and jet fuel during a 90-minute flight over the Gulf of Mexico from Houston. Sapphire Energy supplied the algae fuel, Terasol the jatropha.
An estimate used by the UN’s
That estimate underestimates airlines’ actual emissions by 20%, according to a report put out by the US Dept. of Transportation, Eurocontrol, the Manchester Metropolitan University and QinetiQ, which goes on to project that total CO2 emissions from commercial aviation could reach 1.5 billion tons per year by 2025, nearly half that of the entire EU, a 27-nation bloc that’s home to some 457 million.
Despite longstanding industry opposition, the EU last October extended its regulatory Emissions Trading Scheme to include airlines flying into and out of the region. Registered airlines will have to apply for emissions permits and meet mandated reduction targets by 2011, initiatives that it’s been estimated will add as much as $12 to intra-EU flights and as much as $50 to transcontinental flights.