Camelina sativa – better familarise yourself now with this Latin name. It just might spell the future of aviation, if not cleaner skies and cheaper air fares.
Camelina (other names: gold-of-pleasure, false flax, wild flax, linseed dodder, German sesame and Siberian oilseed) is a flowering, non-food plant belonging to the family that includes the more familiar mustard, cabbage and broccoli among others. Archaeological evidence shows it has been grown in Europe for at least 3,000 years. Until the 1940s, it was an important crop in eastern and central Europe, its seed used in oil lamps.
On January 30, Japan Airlines (JAL) pioneered a demonstration flight, using a biofuel primarily refined from this crop.
The Boeing B747-300 took off from Tokyo’s Haneda airport without any passengers for the 90-minute flight. One the aircraft’s four Pratt & Whitney JT9D engines was tested with a blend of 50 percent biofuel and 50 percent traditional Jet-A jet (kerosene) fuel. No modifications to the aircraft or engine were required for this substitution for petroleum-based fuel.
The pilot reported no difference in the performance of the engine powered with non-regular jet fuel.
Haruka Nishimatsu, JAL president, said that once biofuels were produced in commercially viable amounts, “we hope to be one of the first airlines in the world to start powering our aircraft with them”.
With the success of the demo, experts said the technology employed could be making an impact on aviation fuel supply in as little as three years.
Boeing and engine maker Pratt and Whitney were JAL’s partners in this project, along with refining technology developer UOP of Honeywell and Sustainable Oils, which provided the camelina used in the flight.
Efforts are now being made in the US and Canada to convince growers to focus on raising the crop for biodiesel production.
Margie T Logarta