Continental Airlines biofuel flight coming up

Monday, January 5, 2009, 12:57 by Aviation Correspondent

Continental Airlines, based in Houston, Texas, the United States, is planning to become the first United States-based airline to fly a jet plane experimentally using biofuel made from a special blend of algae, the jatropha weed and jet fuel.

On January 7, 2009, test pilots of Continental Airlines will fly a Boeing 737-800 jet from Houston, the United States, running the No. 2 engine, or right engine (made by CFM International) with biofuel.

According to a statement from Continental Airlines, the test flight will carry no passengers. The pilots will conduct accelerations, decelerations, in-flight engine shutdown and restart and other maneuvers, both normal and otherwise.

“The experiment is a part of Continental Airlines’ commitment to reducing carbon emissions and identifying sustainable, long-term fuel solutions for the industry,” Larry Kellner, the airlines chairman and CEO, said in the statement.

Continental Airlines said it now burns about 18 gallons of fuel to fly one passenger 1,000 miles, which is 35% less in terms of greenhouse-gas emissions than in 1997.

Continental Airlines is conducting the experiment using biofuel in association with Boeing Company, GE Aviation, CFM International, refining technology developer UOP (a Honeywell company), and oil providers Sapphire Energy and Terrasol, which provided the algae and jatropha, respectively. (CFM is a joint venture of General Electric and Snecma.)

Continental Airlines, together with Continental Express and Continental Connection, operates flights to destinations throughout the United States, Canada, Latin America, Europe, and the Asia-Pacific regions. It has over 3,000 daily departures, serving over 150 domestic and 120 international destinations. Continental Airlines’ principal operations are from its three hubs at Newark Liberty International Airport (in Newark, New Jersey), George Bush Intercontinental Airport (in Houston, Texas), and Cleveland Hopkins International Airport (in Cleveland, Ohio). Continental Micronesia, a wholly owned subsidiary, operates routes around Micronesia from its hub at Antonio B Won Pat International Airport in Guam and connects the Micronesian region with destinations in East Asia, South-east Asia, Honolulu and Cairns in Australia.

A week ago, Air New Zealand, the flag-carrier airline of New Zealand, had successfully conducted an experimental flight using biofuel made from the jatropha plant in one of the engines of a jet airliner.

On January 30, 2009, Japan Airlines, based in Shinagawa, Tokyo, Japan, and one of the largest airline operators in Asia, plans to conduct its own test flight using biofuel.

Aviation experts and environmental experts hope that wider use of biofuels will reduce the airline industry’s dependence on traditional jet fuel and thus cut carbon emissions.

Advocates of jatropha – a non-edible plant that produces seeds with an oil content of 37% – claim that the plant can be burned as fuel without being refined.

One Comment

  1. Amr El Beleidy said on Wednesday, January 7, 2009, 1:26

    I would like to know how they assessed the emissions of the biofuels. Which land did it grow on, was this land cleared especially to grow their bio crops? If the land was originally agricultural what crop was being planted on it, and has this crop been pushed into land that was cleared?

    A point is made about jatropha that it is non-edible, which is implying non-competition with food, but the real competition is for land.

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