The world's first commercial aviation flight powered by a sustainable second-generation biofuel moved a step closer this week.
The jatropha-based fuel to power one of four engines on the Air New Zealand Boeing 747-400, has arrived at the Rolls-Royce facility in Derby, UK, for testing prior to the flight.
Preliminary data shows the fuel meets all required specifications for use in commercial aviation and a technical team led by Rolls-Royce is now putting the fuel through a rigorous testing process to further validate its specifications.
Subject to the fuel meeting the necessary scientific criteria, a test flight on an Air New Zealand Boeing 747-400, powered by Rolls-Royce engines RB211, will take place in Auckland in December, with an exact date to be confirmed once fuel testing is complete.
The test flight is a joint initiative between Air New Zealand, Boeing, Rolls-Royce and UOP, a Honeywell company, in commercial aviation's drive for more sustainable air travel for future generations.
The jatropha oil Air New Zealand has sourced and refined for its test flight comes from South Eastern Africa (Malawi, Mozambique and Tanzania) and India. It was sourced from seeds grown on environmentally sustainable farms.
Jatropha is a plant that grows to approximately three metres high and produces seeds that contain inedible lipid oil that is used to produce fuel. Each seed produces between 30 and 40 percent of its mass in oil and jatropha can be grown in a range of difficult conditions, including arid and otherwise non-arable areas, leaving prime areas available for food crops.
The partners have been non-negotiable about the three criteria any environmentally sustainable fuel must meet for the test flight programme. These are social, technical and commercial.
Firstly, the fuel source must be environmentally sustainable and not compete with existing food resources. Secondly, the fuel must be a drop-in replacement for traditional jet fuel and technically be at least as good as the product used today. Finally, it should be cost competitive with existing fuel supplies and be readily available.
The criteria for sourcing the jatropha oil required that the land was neither forest land nor virgin grassland within the previous two decades. The quality of the soil and climate is such that the land is not suitable for the vast majority of food crops. Furthermore, the farms are rain-fed and not mechanically irrigated.
The test flight partners engaged Terasol Energy, a leader in sustainable jatropha development projects, to independently source and certify that the jatropha-based fuel for the flight met all sustainability criteria.
Once received from Terasol Energy, the jatropha oil was refined through a collaborative effort between Air New Zealand, Boeing and leading refining technology developer UOP, utilising UOP technology to produce jet fuel from renewable sources that can serve as a direct replacement to traditional petroleum-based fuel.
Issued by Air New Zealand Public Affairs, phone 09 336 2761