Air New Zealand successfully flew a Boeing 747 partially fuelled by jatropha oil, achieving a significant milestone in the development of sustainable fuels for aircraft.
The airline used a 50-50 blend of standard jet fuel and biofuel made from the oil of jatropha plant seeds to power one of the engines on a Boeing 747 during a two-hour test flight.
It was claimed to be the world’s first test flight using jatropha biofuel and followed a Virgin Atlantic test flight earlier in the year using a blend including coconut oil and babassu nut oil.
"We undertook a range of tests on the ground and in flight with the jatropha biofuel performing well through both the fuel system and engine," Air New Zealand chief pilot Dave Morgan said.
The test flight was a joint venture involving Air New Zealand, Boeing, Rolls-Royce and Honeywell company UOP, with support from Terasol Energy.
Biofuels are seen as a sustainable alternative to fossil fuels but critics are opposed to turning farmland over to the cultivation of biofuel at the expense of food crops. However, some sources of bio-oil, such as algae and jatropha, do not usually displace food crops or result in rainforest destruction as other oil-producing plants do, as they are grown in arid or semi-arid conditions.