Boeing and Air China have conducted China’s first sustainable biofuel flight. Lifting off from Beijing Capital International Airport, the Oct. 28 test flight lasted two hours and used a sustainable aviation biofuel sourced in China, Boeing said.
PetroChina, a partner in the collaboration, sourced and refined the China-grown, jatropha-based biofuel. Jatropha is a plant that can be grown on marginal lands and would therefore not compete with food production. The plant’s seeds yield an oil that can be refined into high-quality biodiesel. The residue can also be processed and used as biomass feedstock to power electricity plants or used as fertilizer since it contains nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium. The plant may yield more than four times as much fuel per hectare as soybean, and more than ten times that of corn. A hectare of jatropha has been claimed to produce 1,892 liters of fuel. However, as it has not yet been domesticated or improved by plant breeders, yields are variable.
Jatropha has been tested as a jet biofuel since 2008, when Air New Zealand flew the first test flight using a Boeing 747. Japan Air, Continental and Interjet have also tested jatropha-based biofuel in their planes.
The fuel was used in a Boeing 747-400 powered by Pratt & Whitney engines. Another partner, China National Aviation Fuel, blended the biofuel with traditional jet fuel and also provided aircraft fueling support. In addition to the successful test, it was announced that Air China and Boeing are working on plans for an international flight between the United States and China fueled by sustainable biofuel.
“The recent success of our biofuel initiatives with government, energy and aviation organizations in China and around the world underscores the tremendous support that exists for the macro-economic benefits and value aviation provides through its unique ability to connect people, cultures, goods and services,” Billy Glover, Boeing Commercial Airplanes’ vice president of environment and aviation policy, said in a statement. “Working closely with the Chinese and U.S. energy agencies we can reduce carbon emissions in the two largest aviation markets, while helping to ensure sustainable industry growth.”