Jatropha Oil Biofuel Update

  • E-Mail this Article
  • View Printable Article
  • Text size:

    • A
    • A
    • A

Air New Zealand is coming out in strong support of alternative fuel, saying that more than 3,000 pounds of fuel can be saved on a 12-hour flight if that flight is flown on a jatropha-seed-oil biofuel blend instead of straight Jet A. The airline makes the claim after flying the plant's seed oil in a 50:50 blend with Jet A during December 2008 flight tests, pumping the fuel to one Rolls-Royce RB2111 engine aboard a Boeing 747-400. Though the tests consisted of only a few hours, more than a dozen tests were conducted at various altitudes and under a variety of conditions. From that experience the airline believes it has found potential significant savings for the airline industry in fuel and, therefore, carbon footprint that would result in a 60-percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. Air New Zealand aims to fulfill 10 percent of its fuel requirements with alternative sources by 2013, but the airline did not work alone on alternative fuel tests. Boeing Continental, Japan Airlines, Air New Zealand and Virgin Atlantic are among those who have conducted tests over the past year and a half. And it appears there is not necessarily agreement on which alternative source would be best, which may complicate fast-tracked certification.

Boeing supports the use of camelina over jatropha and in the long term is more optimistic about algae-based biofuels. Both jatropha and camelina have short-term appeal for their ability to grow well on marginal lands, but camelina may be better-suited to grow in U.S. climates without competing with other crops. It is currently grown in Washington, Montana, Idaho, and the Dakotas. Aircraft are thought to account for about 3 percent of the U.S.'s carbon dioxide emissions, but lowering emissions and fuel burn will depend on the availability of a certified fuel alternative and there is not yet agreement on even the source of the alternative fuel oil.