The first demonstration flight using a biofuel primarily refined from the energy crop camelina was conducted by Japan Airlines (JAL) last week. It was also the first demo flight using a combination of three sustainable biofuel feedstocks—camelina (84%), jatropha (less than 16%), and algae (less than 1%)—as well as the first one using Pratt & Whitney engines.
The one and half-hour demo flight using a JAL-owned Boeing 747-300 aircraft, carrying no passengers or payload, took off from Haneda Airport, Tokyo at 11:50am. No modifications to the aircraft or engine were required for biofuel, which is a direct replacement for petroleum-based fuel. A blend of 50% biofuel (synthetic paraffinic kerosene, SPK) and 50% traditional Jet-A jet (kerosene) fuel was tested in the No.3 engine (middle right), one of the aircraft’s four Pratt & Whitney JT9D engines.
The cockpit crew checked the engine’s performance during normal and non-normal flight operations, which included quick accelerations and decelerations, and engine shutdown and restart. A ground-based preflight test was conducted the day before the flight to ensure that the No. 3 engine functioned normally using the biofuel/traditional Jet-A fuel blend.
Team members from Boeing, Japan Airlines, and Pratt & Whitney will analyze the engine data to determine if equivalent engine performance was seen from the biofuel blend compared to typical Jet A fuel. The tests are scheduled to take several weeks.
The fuel for the JAL demo flight was successfully converted from plant-based crude oil to SPK, then blended with typical jet fuel by Honeywell’s UOP, a refining technology developer, using proprietary hydro-processing technology. Subsequent laboratory testing by Boeing, UOP, and several independent laboratories verified the biofuel met the industry criteria for jet fuel performance.
Sustainable Oils, Inc. sourced the camelina used in the JAL demo flight. Terasol Energy sourced and provided the jatropha oil, and the algae oil was provided by Sapphire Energy. Nikki Universal, a joint venture of UOP and JGC, supplied the biofuel used in the flight, which had been produced in the US by UOP.
Also known as gold-of-pleasure or false flax, camelina is good candidate for a sustainable biofuel source, given its high oil content and ability to grow in rotation with wheat and other cereal crops. The crop is mostly grown in more moderate climates such as the northern plains of the US and Canada, and originally hails from northern Europe and Central Asia. Test plots are also underway in Malaysia, South Korea, Ukraine and Latvia.