Environment

Boeing aircraft makes world's first "green diesel"-powered flight

Boeing aircraft makes world's ...
The ecoDemonstrator 787 lifts off yesterday at Boeing Field in Seattle (Photo: Boeing)
The ecoDemonstrator 787 lifts off yesterday at Boeing Field in Seattle (Photo: Boeing)
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The ecoDemonstrator 787 lifts off yesterday at Boeing Field in Seattle (Photo: Boeing)
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The ecoDemonstrator 787 lifts off yesterday at Boeing Field in Seattle (Photo: Boeing)
The test aircraft is fueled up with the green diesel/jet fuel blend (Photo: Boeing)
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The test aircraft is fueled up with the green diesel/jet fuel blend (Photo: Boeing)

Almost a year ago, Boeing announced that it was looking into running airliners on a mixture of jet fuel and "green diesel" – the latter of which is made from vegetable oils, waste cooking oil and waste animal fats. Yesterday in Seattle the corporation followed through on that plan, flying its ecoDemonstrator 787 flight test airplane on the fuel blend.

Boeing and other companies have already test-flown airliners that were running on a blend of jet fuel and biodiesel. Although both green diesel and biodiesel start with the same feedstocks, and both create a much lower amount of harmful emissions than regular petro-diesel, they're not processed in the same manner and have different chemical makeups.

Biodiesel is simpler to produce, and requires less capital investment – that is, it's cheaper to build its production facilities from scratch. Additionally, it can be used in diesel-powered vehicles in a pure, unblended form. Green diesel typically must be blended with other fuels and has a higher capital cost, although it can be made in existing petro-diesel refineries. Its synthesis also results in the production of propane as a by-product, which is considerably more valuable than the glycerin created in the production of biodiesel.

The test aircraft is fueled up with the green diesel/jet fuel blend (Photo: Boeing)
The test aircraft is fueled up with the green diesel/jet fuel blend (Photo: Boeing)

In yesterday's flight, the plane's left engine was run on a blend of 15 percent green diesel and 85 percent petroleum jet fuel. "The airplane performed as designed with the green diesel blend, just as it does with conventional jet fuel," said Boeing's Capt. Mike Carriker. "This is exactly what we want to see in flight tests with a new type of fuel."

The green diesel was supplied by Finland's Neste Oil, which claims that on a lifecycle basis, sustainably-produced green diesel should produce 50 to 90 percent less carbon emissions than petro-diesel. In order to provide a sustainable feedstock source for either bio- or green diesel, Boeing has recently opened a cooking-oil-to-biofuel plant in China and has begun growing an oil-rich type of tobacco in South Africa, on existing tobacco-growing lands.

Source: Boeing

4 comments
Freyr Gunnar
> In yesterday's flight, the plane's left engine was run on a blend of 15 percent green diesel and 85 percent petroleum jet fuel So we're very far from flying planes without fossil fuel, then. BTW, what's the EROEI of that biodiesel, and how much farmland would it take away just to replace 50% of jet fuel?
StWils
While Freyr is correct the larger point is that developing and incrementally validating a new technology takes time and caution. Boeing, the USAF, and others are working on pieces of a very complex technology and investment change. One of the possibilities is to use municipal sewage to generate methane, bio-D, and bio-Gas fuels. Another approach has used algae to grow the hydrocarbons needed. The corn ethanol fiasco has worked but at the expense of food costs and farmland usage impacts. Finding ways to use sources like sewage and algae uses resources that do not use farmland and do not compete for more valuable resources. Either way there are lots of moving pieces that need to be validated and built before fossil sources can be done away with.
Bruce Miller
China makes a diesel -like fuel from industrial CO2 waste and air (Haber process?) using high temp Gas moderated reactor energy? Eventually this fossil fuel based industry(commercial jet engine flight) will be reduced by electric bullet trains, even in the U.S.A. where oil at any price will become scare and expensive compared to renewables and nuclear energy. For a fact, electric planes exist!
Slowburn
It would be more cost effective to use the waste oil to power cars and trucks where it is produced.