Air New Zealand touts positive results in biofuel testing

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Scientific testing of the alternative fuel used by Air New Zealand (ANZ) during a demonstration flight has found that a Boeing 747-400 using the 50:50 biofuel blend of Jet A1 and jatropha oil could improve fuel burn by 1.2% during a 12-hour flight covering 5,800 nautical miles.

The results come from analysing data collected during a 2h trial in which a biofuel blend powered one Rolls-Royce RB211 engine on an ANZ 747-400 from Auckland International airport on 30 December 2008. More than a dozen performance tests were conducted during the demonstration at various altitudes and under a variety of operating conditions. During the tests, the biofuel's performance through the engine and fuel systems demonstrated that the blend has the potential to work as a drop in replacement for Jet A1.

Testing also found that using the blend could save 1.4 tonnes of fuel and trim greenhouse gas emissions between 60% and 65% in a 12-hour flight, ANZ general manager airline operations and chief pilot, Capt. David Morgan said today at the Air Transport World Eco-Aviation conference in Washington.

Roughly 4.5 tonnes of carbon dioxide (CO2) could also be saved and the biofuel blend could also improve fuel burn by 1% on shorter range flights.

Air New Zealand last year declared it aims to meet 10% of its annual fuel needs through sustainable alternative sources by 2013.

In that quest, it is unlikely the carrier will rely solely on oils derived from jatropha as the plant does not grow effectively in New Zealand, and transporting the feedstock is problematic when considering lifecycle issues, Morgan says.

ANZ used jatropha since that alternative fuel was available at the time, he says, adding he is pleased to have demonstrated that it is a viable feedstock.

The airline will also consider raw materials such as halophytes, cellulose and, in the long run, algae, Morgan says, noting there are hundreds of potential feedstocks.

In addition to researching other feedstocks, ANZ is also encouraging other airlines to deal with climate change issues despite the economic downturn as environmental pressures will exist even when then economy recovers.

"We've got to keep pushing industry along. We're concerned because [with] airlines facing difficult economic times, the pace and sense of urgency will be lost," he says.

To that end, ANZ will submit its findings to certificating body ASTM International, which will meet next month to discuss specifications for non petroleum-based fuels.

Stakeholders such as the US Commercial Aviation Alternative Fuels Initiative (CAAFI) expect ASTM to approve fuel specifications for 50:50 biofuel blends next year.

ANZ was one of three carriers to conduct biofuel demonstrations in the past six months following the first-ever part-biofuel flight by Virgin Atlantic Airways in February 2008.

Continental Airlines and Japan Airlines (JAL) conducted separate biofuels demonstrations in January of this year.

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