Powering an Airplane on a Bunch of Nuts


An historical moment on December 30, 2008: Air New Zealand makes history via jatropha powered flight while General Motors plans to sign a pact for jatropha production.

The flight was the first to use jatropha as part of a biofuel mix.

HONG KONG: Despite plunging oil prices, airlines are intensifying their search for alternative fuels to make flying more affordable and environmentally friendly.

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An early test of the commercial and technical viability of one such biofuel took place Tuesday in the skies above Auckland. Air New Zealand, the country’s primary carrier, staged a successful test flight using oil derived from jatropha, a weed which can grow in arid conditions and produces inedible oil. This means it won’t be taking away crops used for feeding the world’s swelling population, like ethanol production.

For two hours pilots tested the oil, a 50-50 blend of conventional jet fuel and jatropha, in one of the four Rolls-Royce engines which powered the Boeing 747-400 aircraft. This flight holds the distinction as being the first test flight of a commercial airline utilizing jatropha oil.

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“Today we stand at the earliest stages of sustainable fuel development and an important moment in aviation history,” said Rob Fyfe, Air New Zealand’s chief executive. The project has been 18 months in the works. Hopes are that the test results will lay the groundwork for jatropha to be available in commercially viable quantities as soon as three to five years, executives of the companies said.

More Biodiesel Test Flights to Come in 2009

Other airlines are conducting test flights using biofuel blended jet fuels in 2009:

  • Continental Airlines has a scheduled January 7, 2009 test flight using a blend of Jatropha and algae. This will be the first flight that algae has been used in a biofuel blend for a commerical aircraft. Continental to be first carrier in the Americas to conduct biofuel flight in partnership with Boeing, GE Aviation, CFM International, and Honeywell’s UOP

HOUSTON, Dec. 8  — Continental Airlines (NYSE: CAL) today announced plans for the first biofuel-powered demonstration flight of a U.S. commercial airliner, to be conducted in Houston on Jan. 7, 2009. The demonstration flight, which will be operated with no passengers, will be powered by a special fuel blend including components derived from algae and jatropha plants — sustainable, second-generation fuel sources that don’t impact food crops or water resources, and don’t contribute to deforestation. (Source: Continental Airlines)

  • Japan Airlines has a scheduled January 30, 2009, test flight using a biodiesel fuel based on camelina oilseed.

BOZEMAN, Mont., Dec 16, 2008 (BUSINESS WIRE) — Sustainable Oils, a producer and marketer of renewable, environmentally clean, and high-value camelina-based biofuels will participate in an historic flight by Japan Airlines (JAL) planned for January 30, 2009.  The demonstration flight will make JAL the first Asian carrier to fly on fuel derived from sustainable feedstocks and the first airline to use camelina-based bio-jet fuel.  JAL’s feedstock mixture is 84% camelina, nearly 16% jatropha and just under 1% algae. Both jatropha and algae are being tested as primary biofuels for aviation gas as well.  (Source: BiofuelsDigest.com)

Flash Back to February 2008: Virgin Atlantic became the first airline to test a commercial aircraft on a biofuel blend, using a 20 percent mixture of coconut oil and babassu oils in one of its four engines. Note: Coconut and babassu oils come from palm trees and are used to make soaps, shampoos and special skin lotions. I would hope that Virgina Airlines considered a jatropha-blend instead of palm products. If large amounts of these oils were used for biodiesel, shampoo and other similar products would increase in price. Additionally, palm oil is already one of the many reasons for  excessive de-forestation in South America. Increasing the strain on these forests for the output of additional fuel would be disasterous.

General Motors to Sign MoU (Memorandum of Understanding) for Growing Jatropha.
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Ahmedabad: After the successful first phase trial run of biodiesel blended fuel, auto-maker General Motors is likely to sign an agreement with Bhavnagar based Central Salt and Marine Chemical Research Institute (CSMCRI) for Jatropa cultivation, institute officials said.

As part of the General Motors Initivative to use biodiesel blended fuels for its vehicles, GM has signed an MoU for the cultivation of jatropha in wastelands. The corporation has conducted test trials running a biodiesel blend in excess of 25,000 kilometers. The blended fuel contained between 10-20% Jatropha biodiesel and future trials have plans of upping the percentage to 100% Jatropha biodiesel.

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8 Responses to Powering an Airplane on a Bunch of Nuts

  1. Gunaseelan February 20, 2009 at 6:28 am #

    It is great to hear that Flights are powered with Bio Diesel. The Ground reality in India is that the farmers are offered only 8( 16 cents) rupees per Kg of Jetropha or JoJoPa seeds. The cultivation and yield of the seeds is not that good. I hope the government will encourage the farmers by paying a reasonable amount of money for the seeds.


  2. ChemicallyGreen.com
    chemicallygreen.com February 20, 2009 at 10:49 am #

    @Gunaseelan: Thank you for your comments. Even though Jatropha is being used in limited amounts in aviation fuel, it is a start.

    Cultivation and yield of the Jatropha seeds is important for maximum oil production and a lot of farmers need to be trained on using the best methods for growing Jatropha. This has been a problem with Jatropha.

    Likewise, the governments of these countries that are growing Jatropha, need to maximize benefits for the growers.

  3. ChemicallyGreen.com
    chemicallygreen.com March 23, 2009 at 10:10 am #

    @You’ve Got Green Mail: Thanks for the comment.

  4. holmes humidifier June 25, 2010 at 9:05 pm #

    Great advice and good common sense. You can learn something from anyone that you encounter – good, bad, or indifferent. Everyone brings something different to the table.

  5. ChemicallyGreen.com
    chemicallygreen.com June 25, 2010 at 10:20 pm #

    @holmes humidifier.net: thank you for your comments. Lot of overseas countries getting into Jatropha business, but it seems that there are harvesting and growing issues that have to be sorted out. Don’t know production capacity, but even the Navy and Air Force have made flights with limited amounts of Jatropha, diesel, algae oil and a few grass biofuels.
    In India, General Motors is currently working on a hybrid version for Jatropha that will resist freezing. This could be a major break through for the U.S. for possible growing in freeze zones.

  6. ChemicallyGreen.com
    chemicallygreen.com June 25, 2010 at 10:23 pm #

    @Nick Cobb: thanks for your comments. Hopefully, Jatropha will have a future as a biofuel for airplanes.


  1. Nick Cobb - January 11, 2009

    @domfosnz #Jatropha oil… cool stuff. Lots of other airlines are planning on testing biofuels with it as well. http://is.gd/fpwh

  2. You’ve Got Green Mail March 22, 2009 | Green Talk™ - March 22, 2009

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