Air New Zealand and Boeing set 3 December as the date for the airline’s sustainable biofuels flight from Auckland using a 747-400 jetliner. Conducted in partnership with Rolls-Royce and UOP, one of the airplane’s four Rolls-Royce RB211 engines will run a 50/50 blend of Jet A-1 and UOP’s “green jet” fuel—a synthetic paraffinic kerosene (SPK) derived from jatropha. (Earlier post.)
Air New Zealand now becomes the first airline to use a commercially viable biofuel sourced using sustainability best practices. Boeing, Air New Zealand and UOP have worked diligently with growers and project developer Terasol Energy to identify sustainable jatropha in adequate quantities to conduct thorough preflight testing.
In its process, UOP deoxygenates the jatropha oil, then applies selective cracking and isomerization to produce the drop-in biojet fuel, which can be blended at levels up to 50% with conventional petroleum-based jet fuel. The production of the fuel for this flight marks the world’s first large-scale production run of a commercially viable and sustainable biofuel for aviation use, according to the partners.
As part of the fuel verification process, UK-based engine maker Rolls-Royce’s technical team conducted extensive laboratory testing to ensure compatibility with today’s jet engine components and to validate the fuel meets stringent performance criteria for aviation fuel.
In preparation for Air New Zealand’s test flight we achieved our near-term goal—identifying and sourcing the first large-scale run of sustainable biofuel for commercial aviation.
The processing technology exists today, and based on results we’ve seen, it's highly encouraging that this fuel not only met but exceeded three key criteria for the next generation of jet fuel: higher than expected jet fuel yields, very low freeze point and good energy density. That tells us we’re on the right path to certification and commercial availability.—Billy Glover, Boeing Commercial Airplane’s Managing Director of Environmental Strategy
Advance testing for the Air New Zealand flight showed that the jatropha-based biofuel met all critical specifications, including a freeze point at -53° F (-47° C) and a flash point at 100° F (38° C).
Laboratory testing showed the final blend had excellent properties, meeting and in many cases exceeding the stringent technical requirements for fuels used in civil and defense aircraft. The blended fuel therefore meets the essential requirement of being a drop-in fuel, meaning its properties will be virtually indistinguishable from conventional fuel, Jet A1, which is used in commercial aviation today.—Chris Lewis, Rolls-Royce company specialist for fuels
Boeing is working with airlines and engine manufacturers to gather biofuel performance data as part of the industry’s efforts to revise the current American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) standards to include fuels from sustainable plant sources.
Jatropha, which can be grown in a broad range of conditions, produces seeds that contain inedible lipid oil that is extracted and used to produce fuel. Each seed produces 30-40% of its mass in oil.
Plant oil used to create the fuel for the Air New Zealand flight was sourced from non-arable lands in India and Southeastern Africa (Malawi, Mozambique and Tanzania). Air New Zealand is one of several air carriers working to diversify and secure its energy future through participation in the Sustainable Aviation Fuel Users Group.
Additional flight specifics will be announced closer to the actual flight date.