Air New Zealand has announced it will be the first airline in the world to use biofuel extracted from the plant jatropha when a test flight takes place later this year.
In the race to become the world’s most environmentally sustainable airline, the company also said it expects to replace at least one million barrels of fuel, equivalent of 10 per cent of its annual fuel needs, with biofuel by 2013.
Chief executive officer Rob Fyfe said: “Air New Zealand is absolutely committed to being at the forefront of testing environmentally sustainable fuels for use in aviation and we are confident that our hard work with partners like Boeing…will see a step change sooner than many people realise.
“Studies have already shown that sustainable fuels can lead to a significant reduction in carbon emission with a 40-to-50 per cent lower carbon footprint on a lifecycle basis.”
The airline expects to conduct the test flight with the airline’s Boeing 747-400 Rolls Royce using fuel sourced from jatropha, depending on final regulatory approvals and testing by the engine manufacturer.
Jatropha, a plant that grows in south-east Africa and India, produces seed that contains inedible oil that can be converted into fuel.
Mr Fyfe said the airline has been non-negotiable about the three criteria – social, technical and commercial – any alternative fuel must meet for its test flight program.
“Jatropha satisfies all our criteria and furthermore, it is likely to be available in the necessary commercial quantities to meet our needs within five years,” he said.
“We have already had offers from organisations in Asia and Africa willing to guarantee enough supply to meet our 2013 target.”
He said using the biofuel could be a cost-effective option for the aviation industry as costs for jatropha are 20 to 30 per cent lower than oil prices.
The airline is also considering using algae-produced biofuel for testing.
Mr Fyfe said the company is seeking partnerships to build a suitable supply chain model.
“We are quite open to working with like-minded partners, including the New Zealand Government, on the development of refinery and delivery opportunities,” he said.