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Lufthansa to use Neste Oil NExBTL renewable jet fuel in 6-month commercial flight trial

In April 2011, Lufthansa will begin a six-month trial of renewable jet fuel with an Airbus A321 on scheduled commercial flights on the Hamburg-Frankfurt-Hamburg route. Pending certification, one of the aircraft’s engines will use a 50-50 mix of Neste Oil’s NExBTL renewable jet biofuel and traditional kerosene. The other engine will use conventional jet fuel. The primary purpose of the project is to conduct a long-term trial to study the effect of biofuel on engine maintenance and engine life.

Neste Oil uses its proprietary NExBTL hydrogenization technology (earlier post) to produce jet fuel from renewable raw materials such as vegetable oil and animal fat. The greenhouse gas emissions of NExBTL renewable jet fuel, as calculated over the fuel’s entire life cycle, are 40-80% lower than those of fossil-based jet fuel, according to Neste Oil. NExBTL renewable diesel has been in use on the road for a number of years and extensive tests have shown that it can be used at up to 100% content in cars, trucks, and buses without any problems, the company says.

Neste Oil and Lufthansa signed a cooperative arrangement for the test—the first time that renewable fuel is announced to be used on normal scheduled flights. Flights will begin after official approval has been received from the ASTM (American Society for Testing and Materials) allowing the use of jet fuel produced using Neste Oil’s NExBTL technology.

Lufthansa’s flight program is part of a development project supported by the German Ministry of Economics and Technology that in addition to Lufthansa involves companies such as MTU and Deutsche Airbus as well as a number of universities.

The “burnFAIR” project—dedicated to the testing of biofuel—unveiled by Lufthansa is part of an overall “FAIR” initiative (Future Aircraft Research), in which other issues—alongside biofuel compatibility—such as new engine and aircraft concepts or other fuels, e.g. liquefied natural gas (LNG) are under study. The German Federal Government is contributing a total of €5 million (US$6.6 million) towards the “FAIR” initiative; of the total, half is earmarked for the Lufthansa “burnFAIR” project.

Lufthansa is currently making intensive preparations for the practical tests. Aside from the actual research project, the acquisition of biofuel in sufficient volume and the complex logistics it involves is proving a challenge in the run-up to the trial, Lufthansa said. The aircraft, for example, will be fuelled only in Hamburg. Furthermore, an array of internal processes must be modified, since Lufthansa does not normally deploy a plane exclusively on a single route, but always in a rotation chain on flights to different destinations.

The project will cost Lufthansa an estimated €6.6 million (US$8.6 million).

Lufthansa has improved its fuel efficiency by 30% since 1991, with average fuel consumption per passenger now down to 4.3 liters of kerosene over 100 kilometers.

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