Air New Zealand, Boeing and Rolls-Royce are to conduct a biofuel demonstration flight in 2008 in a bid to accelerate the development of alternative fuels for commercial aviation.

The three companies have signed a memorandum of understanding to "work together on projects aimed at ensuring that commercial aviation continues to become more environmentally sustainable".

Boeing says the demonstration flight is planned for the second half of 2008 using an ANZ 747-400. One of the aircraft's four R-R RB211-524G engines will burn a blend of biofuel and conventional kerosene jet fuel.

The New Zealand trial will follow the already announced biofuel demonstration in the UK involving Boeing, Virgin Atlantic Airways and General Electric. Neither demonstration will involve revenue passenger flights.

Selection of a bio-jet fuel for the Virgin trial, planned for early 2008 and involving a single GE CF6-80C2 engine on a Virgin 747-400, is believed to be imminent. Boeing says it is in discussions with "fuel-source providers around the globe" to identify biofuels that are suitable for aviation use and available in sufficient quantities for laboratory and engine testing.

"Our near-term goal is to identify sustainable alternative bio-jet fuel sources for the aircraft that are flying today," says Boeing. Unconfirmed reports have linked the trials with New Zealand company Aquaflow Bionomics, which has developed a process to produce biofuel from pond scum, or algae.

ANZ says the trial will probably be carried out from its Auckland base. Chief executive Rob Fyfe says "as little as a year ago biofuel seemed like 'pie in the sky' to many aviation industry observers, but it is now a possibility and technology is moving so fast that it may become viable in a much shorter timeframe than previously thought".

Boeing adds: "The Air New Zealand bio-jet fuel demo flight will highlight the suitability of environmentally progressive fuel solutions that differ from traditional biofuel development." The company says bio-jet fuels will be second-generation biofuels produced from sustainable feedstocks using processes suited to aviation applications.

"These bio-jet fuels can potentially be blended with traditional kerosene fuel to reduce dependency on petroleum-based fuels," says Boeing. Sustainable feedstock sources will avoid deforestation and potential competition with food supplies, while helping lower aviation carbon dioxide output, it says.

Source: Flight International