|Earlier testing by Boeing indicated that biojet fuels blended at 20 percent with Jet-A appear to pass the jet fuel thermal stability (JFTOT) requirement, and is much improved over the results for B100 biodiesel. Click to enlarge.|
Virgin Atlantic, in partnership with Boeing, GE Aviation and Imperium Renewables, a leading biodiesel producer based in Seattle, Washington, successfully flight tested a Boeing 747 equipped with GE engines today using a 20% blend of a biojet fuel derived from babassu and coconut oil in one engine. No modifications were made to either the aircraft or its engines to enable the flight to take place.
The flight marked the first in-flight demonstration of a biofuel in a large commercial jet. Earlier in February, Airbus launched its alternative fuel research program with the 3-hour flight of an Airbus 380 between the UK and France fueled by a Gas to Liquids (GTL) blend. (Earlier post.) Boeing, Air New Zealand and Rolls-Royce also plan a biofuel demonstration flight in the second half of 2008 using an Air New Zealand Boeing 747-400 equipped with Rolls-Royce engines. (Earlier post.)
Boeing has been actively exploring second-generation biofuel feedstocks and processes that have the potential to reduce greenhouse gases throughout their entire lifecycle for use in aviation fuel. 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 calls biojet fuel. Tecbio first developed the vegetable-oils-based aviation fuel for in 1980. (Earlier post.)
|The basic Tecbio process. Click to enlarge.|
Tecbio uses a transesterification process to produce the methyl or alkyl esters that constitute both biodiesel and biokerosene (biojet)—biokerosene is constituted of an ester fraction of selected molecular weight. (Tecbio also uses babassu oil as a feedstock.) The fuel used in the Virgin test flight, although produced via transesterification, is not derived from the Tecbio process, according to Boeing.
In preparation for the Virgin Atlantic test flight, Boeing, GE Aviation and Imperium conducted extensive laboratory and static-engine testing on the ground to evaluate the energy and performance properties of the biojet fuel used in the flight. The Virgin Atlantic flight is part of a broader industry-wide initiative to commercialize alternative fuel sources for aviation. Virgin Atlantic will share the results with those also seeking to cut their carbon emissions in the rest of the industry.
The demonstration flight took off from London Heathrow at 11:30 am and arrived in Amsterdam at 1:30 pm local time. During the flight, technical advisors on board took readings and recorded flight data for subsequent analysis by the partners.
We’re extremely proud to have produced the fuel used today for this historic flight. A successful flight will not only validate the use of biofuels in aviation, but also provide a glimpse into the future of all fuels. Today’s biojet fuel offers higher-quality standards and a more sustainable fuel than traditional jet fuel. Additionally it illustrates the potential for second-generation biojet fuel to be even more viable in the coming years. We’re committed to the aviation community and to innovating new and environmentally-friendly alternative fuels.—John Plaza, President and CEO for Imperium Renewables
The results of today’s biofuel flight will be analyzed by Virgin Atlantic, Boeing, GE Aviation and Imperium Renewables and used for the research and development of next-generation biofuels that can help reduce carbon emissions. Boeing will use the findings from this flight in the Air New Zealand demonstration flight later this year.
Babassu oil comes from the nuts of the babassu tree, which is native to Brazil. The fruit of the babassu is used in products such as drugs and cosmetics, and its leaves are used to make roofs and paper, which in turn is used to create folders, bags and soap boxes. Coconut oil is used for a variety of applications including oil for biodiesel. Most coconut plantations are mature and do not contribute to deforestation, according to the partners.