JAL latest to commit to biofuel test flight

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Japan Airlines (JAL) has become the latest carrier to commit to carrying out a demonstration flight with an aircraft powered in part by biofuel.

The Oneworld alliance carrier says in a statement that it will carry out the demonstration flight on 30 January using one of its Pratt & Whitney JT9D-powered Boeing 747-300s.

It says it will be the first Asian carrier to operate such a flight, the first using Pratt & Whitney engines and the first with a biofuel refined in part from the energy crop camelina.

JAL says a blend of 50% biofuel and 50% traditional Jet-A jet fuel will be tested in one of the four engines of the aircraft. The flight will depart from Tokyo Haneda airport and it will last around 1hr.

The biofuel component will be made up of three second-generation biofuel feedstocks, says JAL, specifically 84% camelina, under 16% jatropha and under 1% algae.

"This will make the JAL biofuel demonstration flight the first one to be powered by camelina, and the first using a combination of three sustainable feedstocks," says JAL.

"Camelina, also known as gold-of-pleasure or false flax, is an energy crop, given its high oil content and ability to grow in rotation with wheat and other cereal crops. The crop is mostly grown in more moderate climates such as the northern plains of the US and originally hails from northern Europe and Central Asia. It can be grown even in dry areas, poor soil and at high altitudes. It is classified as a 'traditional' crop, but is considered next-generation given that its primary use is as a biofuel feedstock."

JAL says the camelina is being sourced from US-based Sustainable Oils, the jatropha oil from Terasol Energy and the algae oil from Sapphire Energy. The test flight will be carried out in partnership with Boeing, Pratt & Whitney and Honeywell subsidiary UOP.

"The flight will be the final stage in a 12-month process to conclusively confirm the sustainable biofuel's operational performance capabilities and potential commercial viability," says JAL.

"The JAL biofuel flight is expected to bring the airline industry significantly closer to finding a suitable sustainable biofuel that will help reduce the impact of carbon dioxide emissions generated by aviation, whilst also reducing the industry's reliance on traditional petroleum-based fuels."

JAL environmental affairs VP Yasunori Abe adds: "Prior to takeoff, we will run the No 3 engine (middle right) using the fuel blend to confirm everything operates normally. In the air, we will check the engine's performance during normal and non-normal flight operations, which will include quick accelerations and decelerations, and engine shutdown and restart."