Air New Zealand, Sustainable Power test biobased jet fuels

By Erin Voegele
With the price of jet fuel hovering near $4 per gallon internationally, at least two companies are taking steps to develop cheaper, more sustainable biobased jet fuel.

In the fourth quarter of 2008, Air New Zealand plans to conduct the world's first test flight on a large passenger aircraft using biofuel produced from jatropha oil. The company expects to be using 1 million barrels of environmentally sustainable fuel annually by 2013.

Jatropha is an inedible evergreen shrub that produces lipid oil. The drought and pest resistant plant can be grown under a range of arid and nonarable conditions, and is generally found in Asia, Africa and the West Indies. Seeds produced by the plant can contain up to 40 percent oil.

The jatropha oil used to produce the fuel that Air New Zealand is testing comes from seeds grown on environmentally sustainable plantations in southeastern Africa and India. In order to take part in the company's test flight program, the fuel must meet three criteria: First, the fuel must be environmentally sustainable and not compete with existing food stocks. Second, it must be as good as the product currently being used. Finally, it needs to be readily available and significantly cheaper than existing fuel supplies.

In the United States, another company is working toward making a biobased jet fuel commercially available. Sustainable Power Corp., an international green energy service provider, recently conducted joint testing on its All Green biobased jet fuel with an undisclosed airline. The fuel, produced from palm waste, was 10 percent biomass-based fuel and 90 percent petroleum jet fuel.

Sample testing conducted by AmSpec Services LLC concluded that Sustainable Power's blend met and exceeded current jet fuel specifications and that All Green biobased jet fuel is a viable replacement for a portion of the petroleum-based jet fuel used in passenger aircraft.