Biofuel Powered Aircraft Set To Come To Canada

Canada’s Porter Airlines will become the first carrier in the country to conduct a biofuel-powered flight this month.

Porter, who already undertook a test flight in February this year, plans to make the commercial flight in mid-April to coincide with Earth Day, the company’s chief executive said.

Bombardier Q400 turboprop aircraft

Image via Bombardier inc.

“We are timing our biofuel-powered flight close to Earth Day to emphasize the contribution that biofuels are expected to make in helping the aviation industry meet its targeted reduction in emissions,” CEO Robert Deluce said in a statement.

The flight on one of Porter’s fleet of Bombardier Q400 turboprop airliners will use a 50/50 blend of biofuels and regular jet propulsion fuel.

The event will be a first for Canada, whose aviation industry is lagging behind America in the switch to biofuels.

Last November, Continental Airlines took the prize for the first revenue passenger trip in the U.S. powered by biofuels. On a domestic flight between Houston and Chicago a 737 was fueled with 60 per cent traditional petroleum-based jet fuel and 40 per cent aviation biofuel made from algae oil.

Aviation regulators approved the use of biofuels last summer. Shortly afterwards, KLM Royal Dutch became the first airline in the world to operate a commercial flight with the environmentally-friendly fuels.

Porter Airlines, which operates domestic runs in Canada and down the eastern seaboard of the United States, including to New York and Washington, said the biofuel portion of its fuel mix was derived from two varieties of oilseed – Camelina sativa and Brassica carinata.

The two varieties belong to the family of flowering plants known as Brassicaceae, which also includes cabbages and turnips.

The company said its Q400 aircraft, built in Toronto by plane manufacturer Bombardier, were already a greener alternative to many existing craft, using up to 40 per cent less fuel and producing up to 40 per cent fewer emissions on routes where they had replaced similar-capacity, older jets.

“During the flight, the Q400 aircraft successfully undertook several maneuvers including engine-out climbs, rapid engine accelerations and cruising to verify the performance of the aircraft while using the bio-derived fuel,” said Mike Arcamone, the president of Bombardier Commercial Aircraft.

The change to greener fuels has been prompted in part by a hike in oil prices. Airlines are also keen to reduce their carbon footprint to comply with the International Air Transport Association’s (IATA) self-imposed goals to reach CO2-neutral growth by 2020 and achieve a 50 per cent reduction in CO2 emissions from 2005 levels by 2050.

However, the use of biofuels still remains contentious in some quarters because of the impact of the resources used to produce that biomass. If the biomass is taking away from food production or grown on cleared rainforest land like the commonly used palm oil, then the positives quickly diminish.

Paul Willis has been journalist for a decade. Starting out in Northern England, from where he hails, he worked as a reporter on regional papers before graduating to the cut-throat world of London print media. On the way he spent a year as a correspondent in East Africa, writing about election fraud, drought and an Ethiopian version of American Idol. Since moving to America three years ago he has worked as a freelancer, working for and major newspapers in Britain, Australia and North America. He writes on subjects as diverse as travel, media ethics and human evolution. He lives in New York where, in spite of the car fumes and the sometimes eccentric driving habits of the yellow cabs, he rides his bike everywhere.

1 Comment

  • Reply April 15, 2012

    John Guchone

    Biofuels that are grown on land that can be used for food crops is a major concern even though farmers in the US have been growing corn for ethanol  as well as Brazil growing sugar. The US Gov’t has subsidized many of these farmers growing food crops for fuel when there are alternatives like Jatropha which can grow on land where food crops will not grow. There has been many studies done on Jatropha and the results have been mostly favorable.

    The aviation industry will create a significant demand on biofuels as mandates kick-in so we either need to be prepared for higher food prices or more development into non-food crops such as Jatropha. Brazil is now spending considerable money to grow Jatropha as they see it as a continuation to develop more biofuels and become a leader in the industry. Let’s hope more countries join in on the cause.


    John Guchone

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