Air New Zealand Completes Test Flight with Jatropha Biofuel

The world’s first commercial aviation test flight powered by second-generation biofuel made using jatropha has been successfully completed in Auckland, New Zealand. More than a dozen key performance tests were undertaken in the two hour test flight which took-off from Auckland International Airport. A biofuel blend of 50:50 jatropha and Jet A1 fuel was used to power one of the Air New Zealand Boeing 747-400’s Rolls-Royce RB211 engines.

Air New Zealand CEO Rob Fyfe said the completion of the flight is a significant milestone and something every New Zealander should be proud of.

“It is Air New Zealand’s long-term goal to become the world’s most environmentally sustainable airline and we have today made further significant progress towards this,” Fyfe said. “Air New Zealanders are passionate about making a difference to the environment and as a result we have become a world leader in examining every aspect of our flight operations to reduce fuel consumption and our carbon emissions.”

Tests were completed at various altitudes and under a variety of operating conditions to measure the biofuel’s performance through the No.1 engine and fuel system.

The tests of the No.1 engine were as follows:
  • Take off – Full powered take off as per normal operating conditions
  • Climb – Climb to 25,000ft. Through 20-25,000ft switch off No.1 engine fuel pump to check fuel lubricity
  • Cruise – At 35,000ft manually set all engine controls to check Engine Pressure Ratios (EPR) and other engine performance parameters
  • Deceleration/acceleration – Measure rate of engine thrust changes
  • Descent – Windmill start at 26,000ft / 300knots and starter-assisted relight at 18,000ft / 200knots
  • Missed Approach – Simulated approach and go-around at 8,000ft to test performance under maximum thrust
  • Landing – Normal landing including full reverse thrust on touch down
  • Taxi – Shut down and restart engine on ground

The jatropha oil Air New Zealand sourced and refined for its test flight came from Malawi, Mozambique, Tanzania and India. It was sourced from seeds grown on environmentally sustainable farms.

Jatropha is a plant that grows to approximately three meters high and produces seeds that contain inedible lipid oil that is used to produce fuel. Each seed produces between 30 and 40 percent of its mass in oil and jatropha can be grown in a range of difficult conditions, including arid and otherwise non-arable areas, leaving prime areas available for food crops.

The test flight partners engaged Terasol Energy, a leader in sustainable jatropha development projects, to independently source and certify that the jatropha-based fuel for the flight met all sustainability criteria.

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