ANZ to test biofuel

22 Nov 2008 by Mark Caswell


Air New Zealand will be the first commercial airline to test-fly a plane powered by a jatropha-based biofuel next month.

The two-hour long test flight, announced by the airline’s chief pilot Captain David Morgan, is due to take-off on December 3 in Auckland.

Rolls Royce has given the go ahead for the biofuel to be used to power one of the carrier’s Boeing 747-400’s Rolls-Royce engines.

Air New Zealand, which has already put in place a voluntary carbon-offsetting scheme, first announced the possibility of a test flight in April (see online news April 7).

The test flight is the result of an initiative by ANZ, Boeing, Rolls-Royce and UOP (a leading developer in refining technology) to seek out sustainable means of air travel.

The biofuel is derived from the seed of the jatropha plant, which produces up to 40 per cent of its own mass in lipid oil. Experts refined this oil to create synthetic kerosene, which was then blended with equal quantities of standard jet fuel.

The jatropha oil was sourced from plants grown on environmentally sustainable farms in South-Eastern Africa (Malawi, Mozambique and Tanzania) and India. Farms were nourished by rainwater only, on land deemed not suitable for food crops. Since the jatropha plant can grow in difficult conditions, it does not have to be in direct competition with food crops.

Besides being environmentally sustainable, ANZ and its partners say that the fuel must be as good as or better than traditional, petroleum-based jet fuel, and should be cost competitive and readily available.

Chris Lewis, company specialist at Rolls-Royce, has already suggested that the fuel fits at least the technical criteria for success: “Laboratory testing showed the final blend has excellent properties meeting, and in many cases exceeding, the stringent technical requirements for fuels used in civil and defence aircraft”.

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Report by Liat Clark

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