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Air New Zealand’s Historic Test Flight with Blended Jatropha Biofuel

Posted Jan 28 2009 3:50pm

Air New Zealand is an intriguing airline. It spans the wall of niche markets and broad commercialization like few others. Fortunately, this intriguing combination made it possible for the ownership and senior management of the company to take a leadership role in reducing its environmental impact, not just through recycling, fleet optimization and route optimization but now, a commitment to researching and implementing biofuels in its fleet.

Replacing kerosene as the global standard for jet fuel is a difficult nut to crack, it you’ll pardon the pun, because kerosene does the job very well. It is reliable. It performs well. Everyone understands it. All the aircraft and jet engine manufacturers specify it in their operating guidelines. The list goes on. First generation biofuels have none of these merits. Thanks to the work of Air New Zealand and its project partners, Boeing, Rolls-Royce and UOP, jatropha oil does.

Jet engines burn kerosene with no tailpipe. In other words, there’s no easy way to attach an emissions system to the engine in order to reduce the pollution as we do with buses, cars and trucks. So, the only practical way of cutting the contribution to global warming of aviation is to change the fuel. Up until the year 2008, no one thought that it was possible. Visionary aviation leaders such as Sir Richard Branson of Virgin Atlantic and Rob Fyfe of Air New Zealand have taken it upon themselves to make jatropha oil a reality.

So, on December 30, one engine of an Air New Zealand 747 jumbo jet underwent a comprehensive test flight fueled by 50% jatropha oil and 50% conventional kerosene. The results were very encouraging. The plane underwent multiple maneuvers during the flight, including climb, cruise, acceleration/deceleration, approach/missed approach, descent and, of course, landing. The history of the flight has less to do with the existence of the flight than of the source of the jatropha fuel. It is sustainable!

Air New Zealand’s commitment to the jatropha project is based on the triple bottom line of sustainability, so that the airline doesn’t merely replace one fuel with another but it converts to one which it knows can be grown and harvested in harmony with nature for decades to come and without impacting the world’s food supply. That, more than any other reason, is why I love jatropha and I commend Air New Zealand for this important leap into a new era of cleaner aviation.

Fomenting the Triple Bottom Line

Corbett Kroehler

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