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Lufthansa to operate world's first passenger biofuel flights

Lufthansa is launching the world's first commercial passenger flights using biofuel, in a project backed by the German government.

From April 2011, the airline will begin a six-month trial on scheduled commercial flights on the Hamburg-Frankfurt-Hamburg route, using an Airbus A321 with IAE engines. One engine will burn a 50-50 mix of biofuel and traditional kerosene.

The primary purpose of the project is to conduct a long-term trial to study the effect of biofuel on engine maintenance and engine life. Airbus will provide technical assistance and monitor the fuel properties.

During the trial period, Lufthansa will save around 1,500 tonnes of CO2 emissions, said Lufthansa chief Wolfgang Mayrhuber at the announcement in Berlin.

"We see great opportunities in the use of bio-synthetic kerosene," said Mayrhuber. "But we are first gathering experience with it in daily practice. This is a further consistent step in our sustainability strategy."

The bio-synthetic kerosene is being provided by Finland-based Neste Oil, under a long-term agreement with Lufthansa. Flights will begin after the ASTM (American Society for Testing and Materials) gives official approval for the use of jet fuel produced using Neste Oil's NExBTL technology. This is expected in spring 2011.

Neste Oil president and CEO Matti Lievonen said: "The beauty of our process is that we can use all kinds of animal fat and vegetable oil as feedstock, and on a larger scale we could use microbes or algae." The company has two plants in Finland and recently opened a larger facility in Singapore. Another in Rotterdam is due to start production in 2011.

At present, the price of biojet fuel is around double that of standard aviation kerosene, but airlines affected by the EU Emissions Trading Scheme are considering its future use as an economic option.

"We feel that there is a good business opportunity," said Lievonen. "Not immediately, but in the longer term, biojet will come as a natural part of kerosene. First-generation biodiesel can't be turned into kerosene, so we have a real advantage in technology."

Fuel quality is a critical issue in the aviation industry. Aviation fuel needs to have a high energy content and be capable of dealing with the very cold temperatures found at the altitudes aircraft travel.

"Being a pioneer in this area, we are very proud that our technology is capable of meeting the strictest quality standards to help meet aviation needs," said Lievonen.

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