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Continental Flight Takes Off on Algae & Jatropha Fuel

January 9th, 2009 | No Comments | Posted in Algae-Aviation-Fuel, Algae-Energy-Companies

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The U.S.’s first commercial jet flight powered by biofuel runs one engine on African weed mixed with a smidgen of algae

Continental jet 516 took off on 7 Jan 2009 in Houston with one of its two engines powered by a 50-50 blend of jet biofuel and petroleum-based kerosene.

The Boeing 737-800—completed a two hour test flight out of Houston today with one engine powered by a 50-50 blend of regular petroleum-based jet fuel and a synthetic alternative made from Jatropha and algae.

“The properties of the fuel are fabulous, in fact, the bio part of the blend has a lower freeze point than Jet A,” says Billy Glover, managing director of environmental strategy at Boeing, which is helping organize similar test flights throughout the world. “The fuels we’re testing now have equal or better energy content than the Jet A requirements,” of at least 48 megajoules per kilogram (20,700 British thermal units per pound).

In fact, the alternative jet fuel—known as synthetic paraffinated kerosenes—has as good or better qualities than Jet A refined from petroleum: It does not freeze at high-altitude temperatures, delivers the same or more power to the engines, and is lighter, as well. And the refiners, UOP, LLC, a division of Honeywell, can turn almost any plant oil into the alternative jet fuel.

For this flight, UOP transformed gallons of oil derived from the seeds of the Jatropha provided by Terasol Energy. The Jatropha oil made up the bulk of the biofuel but 2.5 percent of the blend was also derived from 600 gallons of algae oil procured by Sapphire Energy from Cyanotech, an algae grower in Hawaii—the first time such algae oil has been used for flight.

The next test flight—a Japan Airlines flight scheduled for January 30—will employ a jet biofuel made from Camelina supplied by Bozeman, Mt.-based Sustainable Oils, a joint venture of Seattle biotech company Targeted Growth and Green Earth Fuels in Houston. Camelina is a nonfood primary crop, can be grown on land that isn’t being used, but it fits with existing farm infrastructure. It can be grown on wheat fields that would otherwise be left fallow without harming the soil and in some cases improving it.

Moreover, , the jet biofuel is likely to be blended with the petroleum-based variety, because the biofuels lack aromatics—hydrocarbon rings—that interact with the seals in current engines, helping swell them shut.

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