January 1, 2009

Flight Powered By Poison Shrub Oil

A New Zealand airliner successfully fueled a plane using oil from the seeds of a poisonous shrub, at a time when airlines hit by high oil prices and pressure over the impact of planes on the environment seek greener fuels.

The airline said in a statement that an Air New Zealand Boeing 747 flew for two hours on December 30 with one of its four engines powered by a 50-50 mixture of jet fuel and jatropha oil.

The oil came from the jatropha plant, which grows up to three meters and produces inedible fruits. It is grown on arid and marginal land in India, parts of Africa and other countries, and has been touted for mass production for biofuels because it does not compete for resources with food crops.

Air New Zealand said the flight was the world's first commercial aviation test flight powered by jatropha. The company hopes to use one million barrels of biofuel a year, or about 10 percent of its fuel consumption, by 2013.

Chief Executive Rob Fyfe said it is Air New Zealand's long-term goal to become the world's most environmentally sustainable airline. "Today we have made further significant progress toward this," he said.

The airline said the fuel mixture performed well in a range of tests.

However, many experts say jatropha does not offer an easy answer to biofuels problems because it is toxic and its yields are unreliable. It is also a labor-intensive crop as each fruit ripens at a different time and needs to be harvested separately.

A bio-jet fuel blend made from babassu and coconut oils showed some promise for British-based Virgin Atlantic in February.

Image Courtesy Adrian Pingstone - Wikipedia


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