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Air New Zealand and Boeing Sustainable Biofuels Test Flight Set for 3 December

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.


Matt D.

Wow! I had no idea that there were any airlines thinking of switching to sustainable biofuels. If the test flight is successful (and God willing it will be) this could lead to an industry wide shift to more eco-friendly fuel sources.

Fred H

Airplanes are the biggest consumers of liquid fuels that cannot easily transition to electrical, solid, or gaseous, or other energy carriers. For airplanes, liquid biofuels are the only feasable alternative to fossil fuels for the forseeable future. That's why the airlines and airplane manufacturers recognise the extreme importance of being able to substitute fossil fuels with biofuels before fossil fuels become too costly to use. I think that in the future, aviation fuel will be the main market for liquid biofuels, whereas other liquid fuel consumers will be able to transition mainly to electrical, solid, gaseous, and other carriers of energy.


It's difficult to imagine how enough bio-fuel could be created to satisfy the aviation industry. It is voracious.
Perhaps algal farms floating in the gulf of mexico?

Fred H

Hi danm, I don't think all aviation fuel will ever be 100% bio, but I can imagine that a large portion of it could be. Right now, about 3% of all Transportation fuel is biofuel, and about 9% of all Transportation fuel is used for aviation. Most land vehicles can eventually be replaced with a combination of BEV, PHEV, LPG, CNG, DME, H2, etc. If all 3% of the current biofuel consumption were diverted to the 9% that aviation uses, that would be about one third of aviation fuel consumption. If biofuel production doubles, which at the moment seems likely even without major advances, then about two thirds of aviation fuel consumption could be biofuel.

edwin figuerres

i am appealing to the consortium,UOP,terasol energy and boeing-to validate my proposals as follows 1)aside from UOP,we set up jatropha refineries in usa using jatropha as the feedstock 2)aside from the countries where terasol sourced the jatropha seeds-other developing country like the philippines be a part of the possible country to supply the jatropha seeds 3)with the worst economic crisis america is experiencing-i have tailored an economic plan that will create employment,income generation and investment opportunities here in america with jatropha as the feedstock for biodiesel.america needs investors right now-as you all know-vera sun one of the biggest biofuel refinery was hit by the economic crisis, and allegro biofuel located in louisiana.the philippines has been a long time ally of america.even if jatropha is qualified as a green jet fuel-sourcing the jatropha feedstock from countries like india, or africa and putting up the plant in those countries will not in any way alleviate the economic problem america is facing right now.will it not be better that aside from considering environmental concerns, the economic problem must be the primary consideration, considering that we are also facing a survival problem.and renewable energy will be one of the priorities of the obama administration.

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