The BBC reported yesterday on an Air New Zealand test flight of a bio-deisel hybrid plane.
From the article:
Part of the significance of the accomplishment comes from the use of jatropha plant oil rather than more conditional corn ethanol. Cleanbreak provides some context:
One engine of the Boeing 747-400 was fueled by a 50-50 mixture of jatropha plant oil and standard A1 jet fuel.
A Virgin Atlantic test flight in February used fuel derived from a blend of Brazilian babassu nuts and coconuts.
In Auckland on Tuesday, a range of tests were completed both on the ground and during the flight, said Air New Zealand Chief Pilot David Morgan.
He said the oil from the plum-sized jatropha fruit performed "well through both the fuel system and engine".
The other bonus, obviously, is that air travel is one of the highest emission producing activities, however it's infrastructure (compared to our nation's automobile infrastructure) is centralized, making it easier to switch over in a short time span. Since air travel accounts for almost 10% of US transportation emissions, this could be a significant reduction.
Jatropha plants grow about three metres high and produce seeds that contain an inedible oil. The oil can make up 40 per cent of a seed’s mass. The reason Jatropha is considered ideal for biofuel production is that it’s hardy, resistant to drought and pests, and can be grown on land that generally isn’t good enough for food crops. Seriously — this stuff can grow in sand, gravel, even rock crevices.
The partners in the Air New Zealand project have set high standards for the fuel they’re using in an effort to avoid the kind of criticism that has been aimed at corn-based ethanol. “Firstly, the fuel source must be environmentally sustainable and not compete with existing food resources,” according to an airline press release. “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.” Air New Zealand has said that 10 per cent of its jet fuel will come from jatropha-based biofuel by 2013.
An added bonus: according to J.P. Morgan Chase (via Cleanbreak), jatropha-based jet fuel could be produced at $43 a barrel. With prices of peutroleum based fuel currently around $60 a barrel, that's a competitve price.