There’s another player in the race to make aviation biofuel: camelina.
A Japan Airlines Boeing 747-300 took off from Tokyo’s Haneda Airport on Friday, with an engine powered by a biofuel made primarily from camelina, making JAL the first airline to test fly the fuel. The fuel was a mix of camelina (84 percent), jatropha, (16 percent) and algae (less than 1 percent), marking the 1.5 hour flight as the first demonstration flight powered by biofuel made from three feedstocks.
Camelina, grown for 3,000 years primarily to produce vegetable oil and animal feed, is suddenly a very popular plant. The relatively low cost to convert it into fuel could make it competitive with gasoline and diesel. with fewer harmful emissions. And it’s rich in omega-3 fatty acids and antioxidants, which could make it attractive as a food oil. Growers from Montana to the plains of Canada are planting the crop.
JAL used a 50/50 of the biofuel and traditional aviation fuel in the aircraft’s No. 3 engine, without having to make any modifications to the engine, the airline said. The plane flew without cargo or passengers. Analysts from JAL, Boeing and Pratt and Whitney, which made the jet’s engines, will now pour over data to analyze the fuel’s performance. That process could take several weeks, the companies said. The pilot reported a smooth flight with no problems.
With prices for petroleum-based jet fuels continuing to ride a roller coaster, airlines and aircraft manufacturers continue to look at biodiesel as a viable alternative. In December, Air New Zealand flew a test flight using a jatropha-based biofuel. The U.S. Defense Department is looking at several jet biofuel alternatives, including one made from algae. And Boeing and other industry stalwarts have formed a consortium to speed the development of aviation biofuels.
Boeing Japan President Nicole Piasecki said airlines could be flying revenue-producing flights with biodiesel in three to five years. In that time, Tom Todaro, chief executive of Sustainable Oils Inc., which supplied the camelina used in the test flight fuel, said there could be as much as 200 million gallons of camelina-based fuel being produced annually.