A passenger jet powered in part by vegetable oil successfully completed a two-hour flight yesterday to test a biofuel that could lower airplane emissions and cut costs, Air New Zealand said.
One engine of a Boeing 747-400 airplane was powered by a 50-50 blend of oil from jatropha plants and standard A1 jet fuel.
This year has seen an unprecedented push for alternative fuels by airlines, which were slammed by skyrocketing oil prices earlier in 2008 and are now bracing for a falloff in air travel in the face of a global economic slowdown.
While Air New Zealand couldn’t say whether the blend would be cheaper than standard jet fuel since jatropha is not yet produced on a commercial scale, the company expects the blend to be “cost competitive,” company spokeswoman Tracy Mills said.
Biofuels were once regarded as impractical for aviation because most freeze at the low temperatures encountered at cruising altitudes. But tests show jatropha has an even lower freezing point than jet fuel.
Air New Zealand chief executive Rob Fyfe called the flight “a milestone for the airline and commercial aviation.”
“Today we stand at the earliest stages of sustainable fuel development and an important moment in aviation history,” he said shortly after the flight. The company’s goal is to become the world’s most environmentally sustainable airline.
The flight was the first to use jatropha as part of a biofuel mix.
In February, Boeing and Virgin Atlantic carried out a similar test flight that included a biofuel mixture of palm and coconut oil — but was dismissed as a publicity stunt by environmentalists who said the fuel could not be produced in the quantities needed for commercial aviation use.
Biofuels emit as much carbon as kerosene-based jet fuel, but jatropha — a Mexican plant that grows in warm climates — absorbs about half the carbon that jatropha-based fuels release. Air New Zealand’s proposed blend, for example, would mean a one-quarter reduction in the carbon footprint of standard jet fuel.
Many biofuels — like ethanol which is produced from corn — have been blamed for raising the price of food by diverting it from kitchen tables to engines. While the link between biofuels and grain prices is debatable, Mills said that jatophra plants would not compete with food or other commercial crops since it can grow on land that would make poor farmland and needs little water.
“Ethanol is a first generation biofuel; jatophra a second generation biofuel that doesn’t compete for land with food production,” Mills said.
The test flight out of Auckland International Airport included a full-power takeoff and cruising to 10,600m, where the crew manually set all four engine controls to check for identical performance readings among the biofuel-powered engine and those using jet fuel. Pilots also switched off the fuel pump for the biofuel engine at 7,600m “to test the lubricity of the fuel,” ensuring its friction in the pipe did not slow its flow to the engine.
Captain David Morgan, the airline’s chief pilot who was on board the airplane, said results from the flight tests will provide the company and its partners with invaluable data to help jatropha become a certified aviation fuel.
The checks were “designed to test the biofuel to the fullest extent,” Morgan said.
While the airline heralded the flight as successful, Air New Zealand group manager Ed Sims cautioned that it will be at least 2013 before the company can ensure easy access to the large quantities of jatropha it would need to use the biofuel on all of its flights.
“Clearly we are a long, long way from being able to source commercially quantifiable amounts of the fuel and then be able to move that amount of fuel around the world to be able to power the world’s airlines is still some years off,” Sims told New Zealand’s National Radio.
The company bought the seeds from plantations in East Africa and India that total 125,000 hectares.
The company hopes that by 2013, 10 percent of its flights will be powered, at least in part, by biofuels, Mills said. Most of those using the blend would be short haul domestic services.
FOX HUNT: To suppress dissent, Chinese living abroad that Xi Jinping sees as threats are told to either return to China or commit suicide, Christopher Wray said Chinese agents have been pursuing hundreds of Chinese nationals living in the US in an effort to force their return, as part of a global campaign against the country’s diaspora, known as Operation Fox Hunt, FBI Director Christopher Wray said on Tuesday. In a speech about the security threat posed by China, during which he said Beijing’s counterintelligence work was the “greatest long-term threat to our nation’s information and intellectual property, and to our economic vitality,” Wray gave the example of one Fox Hunt target who was given a choice of going back to China or killing themselves. Fox Hunt was launched
‘WOULD NOT COMPLY’: The company’s user data are kept in Singapore and it would not turn the data over to Beijing even if asked, TikTok chief executive Kevin Mayer said Social media app TikTok has distanced itself from Beijing after India banned 59 Chinese apps in the country, according to a correspondence seen by Reuters. In a letter to the Indian government dated on Sunday last week and seen by Reuters on Friday, TikTok chief executive Kevin Mayer said the Chinese government has never requested user data, nor would the company turn it over if asked. TikTok, which is not available in China, is owned by China’s ByteDance, but has sought to distance itself from its Chinese roots to appeal to a global audience. Along with 58 other Chinese apps, including Tencent
INTERNET CURBS: People are rushing to erase their digital footprints after police given powers over online activity, although it might take years for the full effect to be felt At midnight on Tuesday, the Great Firewall of China, the vast apparatus that limits the country’s Internet, appeared to descend on Hong Kong. Unveiling expanded police powers as part of contentious new national security legislation, the Hong Kong government enabled police to censor online speech, and force Internet service providers to hand over user information and shut down platforms. Many residents, already anxious since the legislation took effect last week, rushed to erase their digital footprint of any signs of dissent or support for the past year of protests. Hong Kong Legislator Charles Mok (莫乃光), a pro-democracy member of the Legislative
‘FIGHT FOR FREEDOM’: Hong Kongers will never bow to Beijing, the advocate said, while the US’ envoy to the territory called China’s new security law a ‘tragedy’ The world must stand in solidarity with Hong Kongers after Beijing imposed sweeping national security legislation on the semi-autonomous territory, advocate Joshua Wong (黃之鋒) said yesterday, vowing to continue campaigning for democracy. Wong, one of the territory’s most prominent young advocates and a figure loathed by Beijing, was speaking outside a court where he and fellow advocates are being prosecuted for involvement in last year’s pro-democracy protests. China last week enacted sweeping security legislation for the restless territory, banning acts of subversion, secession, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces. The legislation has sent a wave of fear through the territory, and criminalized dissenting