The quest to make aviation more eco-friendly took a major step forward today after the successful completion of the world’s first flight powered by second-generation biofuel.
The Air New Zealand Boeing 747 took off from Auckland at midnight for a two-hour test flight, powered with a 50-50 mix of jet fuel and jatropha tree oil in one of its four engines. No modifications to the engine were needed.Air New Zealand’s chief pilot, David Morgan, who was on the test flight told The Guardian: “We achieved everything we wanted to achieve and it as a significant milestone for the aviation industry, doing the very first jatropha-fuelled flight. We’re thrilled.”
“The flight was notable for the lack of any surprises - everything ran normally and as expected,” said Morgan. “The fuel was indistinguishable from jet A1, a true drop-in fuel. You could not see a difference in the four engines.”
The airline plans to source 10% of its fuel from sustainable sources by 2013.
Elsewhere in the industry plans are also gathering apace to test the second generation of biofuels. Continental plans to run a test flight over the Gulf of Mexico with fuel derived form algae.
Airlines can not use first-generation biofuels because these would freeze at high altitude. In addition, second-generation biofuels are made from plants that do not compete with food crops.
Air New Zealand’s jatropha nut biofuel was pre-tested to show that it was suitable for airplanes, freezing at -47C and burning at 38C.
In February, Virgin Atlantic successfully completed a flight between London and Amsterdam with a 747 powered in one engine by a mixture of 80% jet fuel and 20% biofuel - made from coconut oil and babassu palm oil.