January 2, 2009 Air New Zealand has successfully undertaken the world's first commercial aviation test flight using the second-generation biofuel jatropha. A series of key performance tests were conducted at various altitudes during the two hour flight over New Zealand's North Island in which a 50:50 jatropha and Jet A1 fuel blend was used to power one of four Rolls-Royce RB211 engines on the Air New Zealand Boeing 747-400.

The historic flight is a result of a collaboration between Air New Zealand, Boeing, Rolls-Royce and Honeywell’s UOP ( which processed the biological feedstocks to produce synthetic paraffinic kerosene). Terasol Energy also assisted the partners in the independent sourcing of the sustainable feedstocks.

With the commercial aviation industry moving to reduce fuel consumption and carbon emissions, the research initiative aims to achieve three key core objectives - to utilize an environmentally sustainable crop that doesn't compete with existing food resources, create a "drop-in" replacement that's as good as traditional jet fuel and to be cost competitive with current fuel supplies.

“We undertook a range of tests on the ground and inflight with the jatropha biofuel performing well through both the fuel system and engine, just as laboratory tests proved it would,” said Air New Zealand Chief Pilot Captain David Morgan.

“To complete our testing programme our engineers will over the next few days be thoroughly assessing the engine and fuel systems looking for any changes as a result of the use of biofuel.

The three meter high Jatropha curcas plant has seeds which produce between 30 and 40 percent of their mass in inedible lipid oil and it is an attractive proposition as a source for biofuel because it grows in harsh conditions - so much so that it has been listed as a noxious weed in parts of Australia - leaving better quality land free for food production.

The oil used in the flight was sourced from seeds grown on environmentally sustainable farms in South Eastern Africa (Malawi, Mozambique and Tanzania) and India.

The partners are now analyzing the results with the eventual aim of having jatropha certified as an aviation fuel.

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