Boeing focusing on biofuel supply chain

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Boeing is working with companies interested in setting up biofuel supply chains following the airframer's involvement with three biofuel demonstration flights in December and January.

Some are involved with growing feedstocks or processing feedstocks while others work in refining or distribution. The plan is to connect parties focused on different stages of the process to move the commercialization of alternative jet fuels forward.

"We have parties wiling to do one or more of these things," Boeing managing director for environmental strategy Billy Glover said recently at the Air Transport World Eco-Aviation conference in Washington.

He declined to elaborate as the parties are waiting for certifying body ASTM International, a voluntary standards development organization, to approve fuel specifications for 50:50 biofuel blends.

ASTM will meet this month to discuss specifications for non petroleum-based fuels, but Boeing does not expect ASTM to approve specifications for 50:50 biofuel blends until next year.

There may be some "go ahead" this year if the firms feel confident about certification, Glover says.

In the meantime, Boeing is compiling data from three biofuel demonstration flights for an executive summary that it will submit to ASTM this month.

Air New Zealand (ANZ), Continental Airlines and Japan Airlines (JAL) each operated a different 50% biofuel-blend during flight trials.

While a few fit-for-purpose tests are outstanding and may not be finished by the June executive summary release, initial findings include a roughly 1% reduction in fuel burn when operating with the biofuels used by ANZ, Continental and JAL, Glover says.

The three mixes were found to have lower freeze points than standard jet fuel, and also demonstrated a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions during production compared to the production of standard jet fuels.

ANZ flew a Boeing 747-400 using a 50:50 biofuel blend of Jet A1 and jatropha oil. The carrier has since said it found the biofuel blend could improve fuel burn by 1.2% during a 12-hour flight covering 5,800 nautical miles.

Continental used a 50:50 mix of Jet A1 and biofuel derived from 95% jatropha oil and 5% algae oil to power one of two CFM International CFM56-7B engines on a 737-800.

JAL rounded out the demonstrations by testing a biofuel consisting of oils from camelina (84%), jatropha (under 16%) and algae (under 1%) to fly a Pratt & Whitney JT9D-powered 747-300.