As Boeing prepares for more biofuel test flights, the airframer is focusing its efforts on accelerating the development of algae-based energy sources.

The rapidly growing raw material could potentially be converted into large amounts of fuel without taking away from food supplies. Algae does not require freshwater to thrive.

Boeing is focused on “next generation” alternatives fuels, not palm oil or ethanol-based fuels, as a company spokesman explains,“We saw a spike in rice prices. Those are things we don’t want to compete with.”

“[Algae] provides a lot of the good qualities that are needed to ensure that aviation biofuel needs are met in a sustainable way,” says Darrin Morgan, who oversees strategy development and execution for Boeing’s sustainable biofuels program.

Morgan and Boeing director of environmental strategy Billy Glover will co-chair a steering committee of the Algal Biomass Organization, a nonprofit that promotes and advocates for the development of commercially viable transportation fuels.

In order to achieve that viability, Algae-based fuels need a supply chain Morgan says, adding such fuels are in the early stages of development. The organization aims to accelerate the development of such power sources.

Having successfully completed its first part-biofuel powered flight, Virgin Atlantic is hoping a trial can be performed using algae as a biofuel source next year. Boeing and Virgin Atlantic used a 20% mix composed of babassu oil and coconut oil on one of the carrier’s GE CF6-powered Boeing 747-400s on the test performed earlier this year.

In the meantime, Jatropha-sourced biofuel will power the next Boeing test flight in partnership with Rolls-Royce. One RB211 engine will use the alternative fuel during an Air New Zealand Boeing 747-400 flight in the fourth quarter. Continental Airlines has not identified what type of fuel it will use in its test flight. In partnership with Boeing and GE Aviation, the demonstration will be in the first half of 2009 using a next-generation 737 with CFM International CFM56-7B engines.

Aside from proving that aircraft can run on biofuel, the test flight helped create demand from within the fuel supply chain, spurring the creation of new fuel types, Morgan says.

“The fuel used in the [test] flight came about because we asked,” he says.

Source: Air Transport Intelligence news

Source: Flight International