Continental Airlines experiments with algae jet fuel mix

On Wednesday, Continental Airlines flew a Boeing 737 from Houston in a circle over the Gulf of Mexico. Nothing too special about that. Except that this flight was a test of a new 50/50 jet fuel/biofuel mixture, powering one of the engines.

The bio portion of the fuel was a mix of algae and jatropha oil, an alternative fuel that can be grown in poor soil, yet is able to produce more yields than soybean. The fuel was approved for aviation use last year, and meets or exceeds all requirements for a jet fuel.

The jet was not the first biofuel powered airplane. Early last year, Virgin Atlantic flew a 747 from London to Amsterdam powered partially by coconut oil.

Most experts agree that the aviation industry will have to invest heavily in finding alternative fuels, but given how much is at stake during these trials it is understandable that they take things kind of slow.

This trial was a huge success, and the test pilot called it “textbook”. Whether or not we’ll start flying in coconut and algae powered jets any time soon, will all depend on how quickly these new crops can be grown on a massive scale. The amount of biofuel required to become a really viable alternative is quite staggering.

(Via: BBC News)

New algae-based jet fuel passes aviation standards

Biofuels are a hot item these days; and not only in the automotive industry. Several companies have been working on alternatives to petroleum-based aviation fuels, but as of now, none are available on a commercial scale. But research and development is in full swing, and Wednesday marked another milestone in the path towards alternative aviation fuels when an algae-based biofuel passed the ASTM’s standard for “Aviation Turbine Fuel”.

Produced by Solazyme, the fuel is a bio-kerosene that is in fact derived from algae. According to Scientific American, the fuel is superior to other biofuels because it doesn’t freeze at high altitude. On top of that it has the same density as regular Jet-A, which other alternative fuels, derived from natural gas or coal, don’t have.

But don’t expect algae-based fueling stations at your local airport just yet. Solazyme doesn’t own the infrastructure to produce it on a large scale, and in the end, it’s all about money. “If we had our own equipment we could make millions of gallons,” says CEO Jonathan Wolfson. But the “capital involved in owning that equipment is massive.”

[Via Treehugger]