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Air New Zealand test flies biofuel

Air New Zealand flew a Boeing 747 for two hours on a 50-50 blend of jatropha oil and conventional jet fuel. Air New Zealand flew a Boeing 747 for two hours on a 50-50 blend of jatropha oil and conventional jet fuel. (Associated Press)
December 31, 2008
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Air New Zealand tested jet fuel made from the jatropha plant yesterday as the airline searches for an affordable and environmentally friendly alternative to crude oil.

For two hours, pilots tested the oil, in a 50-50 blend with conventional jet fuel in one of the four Rolls-Royce engines powering a Boeing 747-400 aircraft - the first test flight by a commercial airline using jatropha oil.

Rob Fyfe, Air New Zealand's chief executive, called the flight a milestone in commercial aviation.

The project has been 18 months in the works.

Unlike other biofuel crops such as soybeans and maize, jatropha needs little water or fertilizer and can be grown almost anywhere - even in infertile soil. Each seed produces 30 to 40 percent of its mass in oil, meaning it has higher yield per acre than many other plant oils, specialists said.

The results of the flight - and two others planned by airlines in the United States and Japan in January - will be closely watched by an industry trying to shift toward renewable, low-emissions fuels.

A sharp rise in crude oil prices last summer offers a strong incentive for the industry to reduce its exposure to volatile oil prices. But pressure to reduce carbon emissions has also driven the search for alternatives.

The International Air Transport Association, which represents 230 airlines, wants its members to use 10 percent alternative fuels by 2017.

New York Times

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