Looking to reduce its carbon footprint and cut its fuel bill, Air New Zealand on Tuesday tested a passenger jet that was powered partially with oil from a plum-sized fruit known as jatropha.
The airline is the latest carrier to experiment with alternative fuels, partly due to the threat of rising oil prices but also to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from aviation, which are projected to rise by 90 percent by 2020.
Air New Zealand said the two-hour flight from Auckland International Airport was the first to use what are known as second generation biofuels to power an airplane. Second generation biofuels typically use a wider range of plants and release fewer emissions than traditional biofuels like ethanol.
One engine of the Boeing 747-400 airplane was powered by a 50-50 blend of oil from jatropha plants and standard A1 jet fuel.
“Today, we stand at the earliest stages of sustainable fuel development and an important moment in aviation history,” Air New Zealand Chief Executive Rob Fyfe said shortly after the flight.
Along with investing in new technology to replace outdated fleets and new designs that reduce weight and air resistance, the International Air Transport Association says airlines are experimenting with a range of plant materials in an effort to find the jet fuel of the future.
The association, which represents 230 airlines, said it wants 10 percent of aviation fuel to come from biofuels by 2017 as part of a broad climate change plan. Air travel now generates only 2 percent of global carbon emissions that are believed to contribute to global warming, but the industry’s high growth rate has raised concern about future emissions.
“There are very promising biojet fuels, and jatropha is one of them,” association spokesman Anthony Concil said Tuesday, adding that the industry is also looking at switch grass, algae and salt-tolerant plants called halophytes.
Jatropha is a bush with round, plum-like fruit that has been found in parts of South America, Africa and Asia. Seeds from jatropha are crushed to produce a yellowish oil that is refined and mixed with diesel.