ANZ will fly Boeing 747 test using jatropha biofuel

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Jatropha plants will be the source of the biofuel for the test flight Air New Zealand is to conduct later this year in partnership with Boeing and Rolls-Royce.

The trial will take place in the last quarter, with the fuel powering one of the four RB211 engines on one of the airline's 747-400s. Before the test, R-R will conduct tests to get the necessary regulatory approvals, says ANZ.

The 747-400 will have one of its four engines being supplied with the jatropha-sourced biofuel. The other three engines will use jet fuel, says the airline, adding that the 747 will depart from 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 commonly found in India and Africa because they can cope with poor soil and withstand drought.

ANZ says the jatropha trial is in response to the rising cost of jet fuel, which now accounts for 30-35% of total expenses.

The airline's chief executive, Rob Fyfe, says "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".

He adds: "We have already had offers from organisations in Asia and Africa willing to guarantee enough supply to meet our 2013 target," referring to ANZ's aim of sourcing at least 10% of its annual fuel consumption "from environmentally sustainable fuels by 2013".

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 Malawi, Mozambique and Tanzania, as well as from India.