Aero companies plan biofuel flight demo
Boeing, Rolls-Royce and Air New Zealand are teaming up to conduct a biofuel test flight, as part of a wider programme of research into viable and sustainable alternative fuels for commercial aviation.
The evaluation is due to take place in the second half of 2008, using an Air New Zealand Boeing 747-400 powered by four Rolls-Royce engines.
Only one engine will run on a blended biofuel/kerosene mix; the remaining three will be powered by standard aviation fuel. An announcement on the source and mix of the blended fuel will be made closer to the time of the flight. Boeing is currently holding talks with suppliers to identify potential biofuels that are available in suitable quantities for laboratory and jet-engine performance testing and meet aviation standards.
Data gathered throughout the test process will contribute to a wider understanding of the capabilities and limitations of renewable fuels and help in the search for alternatives to kerosene. The evaluation will validate on a real engine what previous lab work has predicted.
When the evaluation has been completed, the engine will be examined for condition and overhauled before returning to normal operational service.
"Our near-term goal in this pioneering effort is to identify sustainable alternative bio-jet fuel sources for the planes that are flying today," said Craig Saddler, president of Boeing Australia. "A significant first step is identifying progressive fuel sources that will provide better economic and environmental performance for air carriers, without any change to aircraft engines or the aviation fuel infrastructure."
Boeing says it is carrying out research into biofuels made using sustainable feedstocks and second-generation production processes, avoiding deforestation practices and potential competition with global food resources. It wants to see development of bio-jet fuels for aerospace applications that can be blended with traditional kerosene fuel to reduce dependency on petroleum-based supplies and help lower carbon dioxide outputs.
Air New Zealand chief executive officer Rob Fyfe commented that that as little as a year ago biofuel seemed like "pie in the sky" to many aviation industry observers, but it is now a possibility and technology is moving so fast that it may become viable in a much shorter timeframe than previously thought.
Fyfe added that Air New Zealand would like to progress to an all-New Zealand biofuel for future tests flights, but sourcing the quantity necessary might be a challenge in the short term.
Jim Sheard, senior vice president – airlines for Rolls-Royce, said: "Working together with Air New Zealand and Boeing, we can reach a better understanding of renewable fuel technologies that might help the industry improve its environmental impact in the long term."
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