On January 30, 2009, Japan Airlines (JAL) became the first airline to conduct a demonstration flight using a sustainable biofuel primarily refined from the energy crop, camelina (Camelina sativa, German: Leindotter). It was also the first demo flight using a combination of three sustainable biofuel feedstocks, as well as the first one using Pratt & Whitney engines. The results of the flight are expected to confirm the biofuel’s operational performance capabilities and potential commercial viability.
The approximately one and half-hour demo flight using a JAL-owned Boeing 747-300 aircraft, carrying no passengers or payload, took off from Haneda Airport, Tokyo at 11:50am (ST). A blend of 50% biofuel and 50% traditional Jet-A jet (kerosene) fuel was tested in the No.3 engine (middle right), one of the aircraft’s four Pratt & Whitney JT9D engines. No modifications to the aircraft or engine were required for the biofuel.
The JAL cockpit crew onboard the aircraft checked the engine’s performance during normal and non-normal flight operations, which included quick accelerations and decelerations, and engine shutdown and restart. Data recorded on the aircraft will now be analyzed to determine if equivalent engine performance was seen from the biofuel blend compared to typical Jet A fuel. The initial analysis of the data will take several weeks and will be conducted by team members from Boeing, Japan Airlines, and Pratt& Whitney.
The biofuel component tested was a mixture of three second-generation biofuel feedstocks: camelina (84%), jatropha (under 16%), and algae (under 1%).
Boeing Japan President, Nicole Piasecki said, “We are hopeful that within the next 3-5 years, commercial aircraft will begin flying revenue passenger flights using sustainable next-generation biofuels. There are remaining hurdles to overcome, including gaining the support of regulators, airports, fuel distributors and others, as well as increasing the production of environmentally and socially responsible fuel sources. Our industry is already working to secure its fuel future supply by establishing firm sustainability criteria to ensure that the environmental impacts and carbon dioxide emissions from biofuels are significantly lower than fossil fuel-based kerosene fuels.”
The fuel for the JAL demo flight was successfully converted from plant-based crude oil to biofuel, then blended with typical jet fuel by Honeywell’s UOP, a refining technology developer, using proprietary hydro-processing technology. Subsequent laboratory testing by Boeing, UOP, and several independent laboratories verified the biofuel met the industry criteria for jet fuel performance.
Camelina: Candidate for sustainable biofuel source
Sustainable Oils, Inc., a U.S.-based provider of renewable, environmentally clean, and high-value camelina-based fuels sourced the camelina used in the JAL demo flight. Terasol Energy sourced and provided the jatropha oil, and the algae oil was provided by Sapphire Energy. Nikki Universal, a joint venture of UOP and JGC, supplied the biofuel used in the flight, which had been produced in the U.S by UOP.
Also known as gold-of-pleasure or false flax, camelina is good candidate for a sustainable biofuel source, given its high oil content and ability to grow in rotation with wheat and other cereal crops. The crop is mostly grown in more moderate climates such as the northern plains of the U.S and Canada, and originally hails from northern Europe and Central Asia. Test plots are also underway in Malaysia, South Korea, Ukraine and Latvia.
“There are currently a few thousand acres under management, with an expectation of hundreds of thousands of acres within three years. Within 5 years, projections are for between 100 million and 200 million gallons of camelina-based sustainable jet fuel,” said Tom Todaro, CEO of Sustainable Oils.
Source: Japan Airlines (JAL), 2008-01-30.