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Continental testing biofuels in commercial aircraft

9 January 2009

For the first time in North America, Continental Airlines demonstrated the use of a biofuel blend to power a commercial aircraft. The demonstration flight—conducted in partnership with Boeing, GE Aviation/CFM International, and Honeywell’s UOP—used a two-engine aircraft, a Boeing 737-800 equipped with CFM International CFM56-7B engines.

The aircraft was fueled by a fuel blend including biofuels made from algae and jatropha oils. Both biofuel components were derived from sustainable, second-generation sources that do not impact food crops or water resources or contribute to deforestation, said Continental.

A 50% biofuel blend with regular jet fuel was used in one of the jet engines during the test. The other engine was fueled by regular jet fuel. The biofuel met the jet fuel specifications, and no modifications were necessary to the engine or other components of the plane. The algae oil has been provided by Sapphire Energy, and the jatropha oil by Terasol Energy.

Continental’s Boeing 737-800, tail number 516, departed from and returned to Houston’s Bush Intercontinental Airport operating under a specially-issued “Experimental” aircraft type certificate. The flight, which lasted about 1 hour 45 minutes, carried no passengers. During the flight, the test pilots engaged the aircraft in a number of normal and non-normal flight maneuvers, such as mid-flight engine shutdown and re-start, and power accelerations and decelerations.

Airlines have been experimenting with biofuels to reduce CO2 emissions and the fuel costs. Air New Zealand recently tested a plane fueled with a jatropha-derived biofuel blend. The Continental flight was the first ever test of algae-derived biofuel in an aircraft.

Source: Continental Airlines