10 February 2009

Time To Fly With BioFuel?

Nine MSN reported on 31st January 2009 that Japan Airlines (JAL) have successfully co-operated with Boeing to successfully pull off the first flight powered by biofuel. (Source: Nine MSN, Japan Airlines Test First Biofuel Flight. 31st Jan. 2009. URL: http://news.ninemsn.com.au/technology/736045/japan-airlines-test-first-biofuel-flight)

The biofuel is composed of camelina, a "non-food crop", i.e. human beings are not deprived of food if the crop is turned into biofuel. The kerosene was mixed with conventional kerosene jet fuel. JAL noted that there was no need for modification to the aircraft's engine. The second generation biofuel involved was composed of a mixture of camelina, jatropha, and algae. The report noted that it was Boeing's fourth demonstration involving biofuels.

All four Boeing demonstrations have thus far involved Boeing aircrafts. The demonstrations thus far can be summed up as follows:

  • First demonstration: Virgin Atlantic Airways, February 2008. First generation biofuel consisting of 20% blend. Plane: Boeing 747-400. Engine: One of 4 General Electric CF6.
  • Second demonstration: Air New Zealand, 30th December 2008. Second generation biofuel consisting 50% blend Jet A1 and jatropha oil. Plane: Boeing 747-400. Engine: One Rolls Royce RB211.
  • Third demonstration: Continental Airlines, 7th January 2009. Second generation biofuel consisting 50% blend of Jet A1 and balance consisting 95% jatropha oil and 5% algae oil. Plane: Boeing 747-800. Engine: One of 2 CFM International CFM56-7B.
  • Fourth demonstration: Japan Airlines, 30th January 2009. Second generation biofuel consisting 84% camelina oil, below 16% jatropha oil and below 1% algae oil. Plane: Boeing 747-300. Engine: Pratt & Whitney JT9D.

Boeing expects that the next step would be certification of biofuels rather than proof of concept. Boeing expects that certification could work towards 50% blend biofuels by 2010. (Source: Flight Global, Trio of Biofuel Tests to Move Certification Forward. 26th January 2010. URL: http://www.flightglobal.com/articles/2009/01/26/321565/trio-of-biofuel-tests-to-move-certification-forward.html)

The push for biofuels in aviation would help reduce carbon emissions. A single return trip between London and Sydney would produce 5.7 tonnes of carbon dioxide per person. Aviation contributes about 3.5% to global warming and is likely to increase to 5% by the afternoon. Airline fuel, which is not taxed internationally, is artificially lower priced compared to other fuels, and therefore encourages people to travel by air. Aviation is one of the fastest growing sources of greenhouse gases. (Source: NOVA Science in The News. Flying Below Our Means. Air Travel Air etc. Date: 8th Feb. 2009. URL: http://www.science.org.au/nova/113/113key.htm)

Climate change is hastened by emissions of nitrous oxide from airplanes, which heightens the effects of CO2. (Source: Christian Science Monitor, Greener Travel? Japan Tests Pond Scum as Jet Biofuel. Date: 1st February 2009. URL: http://features.csmonitor.com/globalnews/2009/02/01/greener-travel-japan-tests-pond-scum-as-jet-biofuel/)

The ingredients of the biofuel in the JAL plane were sourced as follows:

  • Camelina grows in Montana;
  • Jatropha grows in Tanzania; and
  • Algae oil grows in Hawaii. (Source: ibid.)