|The widely-used CFM56-7B engine is the target for the Continental-Boeing-GE biofuel flight test. Click to enlarge.|
Continental Airlines, Boeing and GE Aviation plan to conduct a biofuel demonstration flight in the first half of 2009 as part of an ongoing effort in the aviation industry to identify sustainable alternative fuel solutions. Continental is the first major US carrier to engage in such flight testing to highlight technological advancements in sustainable biofuels that can help to reduce carbon emissions.
The Continental Airlines biofuel flight will use a Boeing Next-Generation 737 equipped with CFM International CFM56-7B engines, using a blend of between 20%-50% of a second-generation biofuel in one engine. CFM is a 50/50 joint company of General Electric Company and Snecma (SAFRAN Group).
The CFM56-7B is the exclusive engine for the Boeing Next-Generation Single-aisle airliner: 737-600/-700/-800/-900. Thrust ranges from 18,500 to 27,300 lbs. More than 4,000 CFM56-7B engines are in service. More than 500 airlines fly CFM56-7B-powered 737s and, since entering service in the mid-90s, they have accumulated more than 50 million flight hours.
The partners have yet to select the flight test fuel, but say that it will be a second-generation fuel that does not impact food production and will be able to be produced in sufficient quantities to support a pre-flight test schedule that includes laboratory and ground-based jet engine performance testing to ensure compliance with stringent aviation fuel performance and safety requirements.
We are seeing a lot of innovation around biofuels for aviation. We’re not ready to select a specific fuel yet. It will be a second generation biofuel, algae is on the list, other things such as babbasu nuts, halophyte plants, jatropha plants, switchgrass...work is going on in all those areas, and progress is pretty rapid.—Billy Glover, director of environmental strategy, Boeing
Additional details, including the fuel type, blend and flight plan, will be announced closer to the demonstration flight date.
In February, Virgin Atlantic, in partnership with Boeing, GE Aviation and Imperium Renewables successfully flight tested a Boeing 747 equipped with GE engines today using a 20% blend of a biojet fuel—a transesterified bio-kerosene—derived from babassu and coconut oil in one engine. (Earlier post.)
Boeing, Air New Zealand and Rolls-Royce plan to conduct another biofuel demonstration flight for the second half of 2008 using an Air New Zealand Boeing 747-400 equipped with Rolls-Royce engines. (Earlier post.)
Tests such as those and the upcoming Continental test are elements in the larger work required to move to a sustainable, drop-in alternative fuel for aviation.
What we are doing with Continental and moving forward is to broaden the knowledge base, to look at more advanced fuels, to look at different types of fuel sources and process methods, to get feasibility and possibility well established to accelerate movement to the next phase of viability and commercialization. This is all part of building the blocks to move to the next steps.
The Air New Zealand test later this year will use a different fuel type than Virgin, and Continental still yet a different fuel type. Continental is advancing [the research] with different fuel types and probably an increased blend ratio. This is very much in the experimental stage. With each flight demonstration and the work that precedes it, we’re advancing options.—Billy Glover
The testing partners plan to share information learned with other parties in the aviation industry.