Air New Zealand (ANZ) will be conducting a trial later this year in which bio-fuel made from jatropha plants will power one of the four engines on a Boeing 747-400.
The trial will take place in this year’s last quarter but prior to that engine-maker Rolls-Royce will conduct some tests and the flight trial needs to get the necessary regulatory approvals, an ANZ spokesman says from Auckland.
An ANZ 747-400, normally used for commercial flights, will have one of its four engines filled with the jatropha fuel and the other three engines will use normal jet fuel, says the spokesman, adding that the 747 will depart Auckland and later return to Auckland.
Jatropha refers to several plant families that are native of Central America and are renowned for producing seeds with high oil content.
The more hardy varieties, which tend to produce more oil, are now commonly found in India and Africa because they can cope with poor soil and withstand drought.
ANZ’s spokesman says the jatropha trial is in response to the rising cost of jet fuel which now accounts for 30-35% of the airline’s total expenses.
The airline’s CEO, Rob Fyfe, says in a statement that “jet fuel recently reached a high of $174 a barrel” whereas the cost of jatropha is at least 20-30% cheaper.
He says “jatropha satisfies all our criteria and furthermore it is likely to be available in the necessary commercial quantities to meet our needs within the next five years.”
“We have already had offers from organisations in Asia and Africa willing to guarantee enough supply to meet our 2013 target,” says Fyfe, referring the to ANZ’s target of sourcing at least 10% of its annual fuel consumption “from environmentally sustainable fuels by 2013”.
Other industries are turning to ethanol but Fyfe says ANZ is using jatropha because it meets the airline’s three criteria.
“Firstly, it must be environmentally sustainable and not compete with existing food stocks,” he says.
“Secondly, the fuel must be at least as good as the product we use today [and] finally it should be significantly cheaper”.
ANZ is sourcing its jatropha from “environmentally sustainable plantations” in Malawi, Mozambique and Tanzania in Africa as well as from India.
“ANZ’s criteria for sourcing jatropha oil was the land was neither forest land nor virgin grassland within the previous two decades [and] the quality of the soil and climate is such that the land” would be unsuitable for most food crops.
The jatropha plants must also rely on no irrigated pumped water and only water it receives from rain, he adds.
Source: flightglobal.com's sister premium news site Air Transport Intelligence news