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Boeing, Air New Zealand and Rolls-Royce Announce Biofuel Flight Demo

CO2 emissions are lower for biofuels and higher for most other alternatives than Jet fuel according to an analysis by Boeing, MTU Aero Engines and NASA. Click to enlarge.

Boeing, Air New Zealand and Rolls-Royce announced a Memorandum of Understanding to conduct a biofuel demonstration flight designed to help accelerate the development of viable and sustainable alternative fuels for commercial aviation uses. Boeing is exploring second-generation biofuel feedstocks and processes that have the potential to reduce greenhouse gases throughout their entire lifecycle.

The demonstration flight is planned for the second half of 2008 using an Air New Zealand Boeing 747-400 equipped with Rolls-Royce engines. Boeing is in discussions with fuel-source providers around the globe to identify potential biofuels that are available in suitable quantities for laboratory and jet-engine performance testing and in compliance with stringent aviation requirements.

Additional details will be announced closer to the actual demonstration flight date.

Our near-term goal in this pioneering effort is to identify sustainable alternative bio-jet fuel sources for the planes that are flying today. A significant first step is identifying progressive fuel sources that will provide better economic and environmental performance for air carriers, without any change to aircraft engines or the aviation fuel infrastructure.

—Craig Saddler, president of Boeing Australia

The Air New Zealand bio-jet fuel demo flight will highlight the suitability of environmentally progressive fuel solutions that differ from traditional biofuel development. Bio-jet fuels will incorporate second-generation methodologies relative to sustainable feedstock source selection and fuel processing, which are uniquely suited for aerospace applications, according to the partners.

A 2006 analysis of alternative fuel options for aviation conducted by engineers from Boeing, MTU Aero Engines and NASA concluded that:

As jet fuel constitutes only about 6 percent of global oil consumption and requires high-performance characteristics, it makes more sense to use higher performing synthetic fuels in aviation. The lower performing biofuels should be used to help supplement 52 percent of the processed oil currently used to manufacture distillate fuel oil and gasoline for ground transportation.

Bio-jet fuels can potentially be blended with traditional kerosene fuel (Jet-A) to reduce dependency on petroleum-based fuels. Additionally, sustainable bio-jet feedstock sources avoid deforestation practices and potential competition with global food resources, while helping to lower aviation carbon dioxide outputs.

In September 2006, Brazilian biofuel company Tecbio announced that it was working with NASA and Boeing to develop a bio-kerosene aviation fuel, which Boeing is calling Bio-Jet fuel. Tecbio first developed the vegetable-oils-based aviation fuel for in 1980. (Earlier post.)

In April, Boeing announced a partnership with Virgin Atlantic that includes a joint biofuel demonstration aimed at developing sustainable fuel sources suitable for commercial jet engines and the aviation industry. The demonstration, scheduled for 2008 using a Virgin Atlantic Boeing 747-400, is being worked on with GE Aviation and Virgin Fuels. Further details will be announced later. (Earlier post.)

Air New Zealand is a launch customer for the Boeing 787 Dreamliner, scheduled for entry into service in 2008. Air New Zealand will receive its first 787-9 in 2010. (Earlier post.)




I hope it goes better than that same airline's groundbreaking flight (literally) to Antarctica
If some think biofuels can replace of 10% of petrofuels of which currently 6% goes to aviation that doesn't leave a lot for motorists.

I'm expecting a greenwash. Run the planes on 5% bio-kero and plant $4.70 worth of trees to offset the other 95%. Society's frequent flying 'haves' can look down on the 'have nots' growing a bit of their fuel.

"second generation biofuel feedstocks and processes ... have the potential to reduce greenhouse gases throughout their entire lifecycle"

This statement is misleading. These fuels don't reduce GHG's, they just (ideally) don't increase them. If you use biofuel from coal flue gas, you actually increase the CO2.


Some second generation biomass source such a perennial grasses show the ability to store carbon and have carbon negative production, and thus they could reduce GHG.

Stan Peterson

Bio Jet fuel makes sense, if and only if, the tailored fuel produces better operating efficiency.

Beware of "Green accounting" that provides phony approval and makes artificial distinctions between the very same amounts of CO2 emitted. Newly dead plants are no different than long dead plants, in producing fuel. As soon as the Greens decide that bio includes "harming the Biosphere", e.g. "Killing the Rain Forest", these bio-fuels sources, will suddenly become anathema. Knowing the inconstancy of the Green groups, that is almost a certainty to happen.

Some cynics even say they seek any alternative that DOESN"T WORK; and promote any will-of-the-wisp that doesn't work, and denigrate any that do.

While the NZ government looks set to introduce carbon tax/credit scheme, local companies are scrambling to put them off - already farming has gained an exemption - clearly the Airlines are gunning for that too. Qantas is betting on offsets by planting trees - charging customers for the pleasure - which they intend to cut down later :p so that's a bit pointless.

Bio-ethanol is an easy and relatively high performance jet fuel - easily adapted with inherent water 'injection', oxygenated, and cooling. Not the best, necessarily, but very good.

Also used extensively during the world war 2 and at later points - there's a huge wealth of aviation experience.

I suspect a good bit of commercial cynicism on the part of the companies involved.

Which doesn't mean some good can come of it...

"Green Accounting"?

There is a massive difference between burning 'newly dead' to 'long dead' as the newly dead represents a cyclical carbon dioxide sink.

Grow a plant, suck up the carbon, burn the plant, release, grow another to reclaim that. It's neutral.

Burning oil, if the entire earth were reforested - we could not recapture that carbon.

David Anderson

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