Continental Airlines next week could become the first U.S. airline to demonstrate passenger jets can fly on a special blend of algae, the jatropha weed and jet fuel.
Earlier this week, Air New Zealand successfully conducted a similar experiment and later this month Japan Airlines plans to conduct its own biofuels test flight.
The hope is that wider use of biofuels will reduce the airline industry’s reliance on traditional jet fuel and reduce carbon emissions.
Jatropha is a nonedible plant that produces seeds with an oil content of 37 percent that can be burned as fuel without being refined, according to the Web site Jatropha World.
The Continental flight will take place from Houston on Wednesday and carry no passengers. Test pilots of the Boeing 737-800 using CFM International engines will run the concoction through the No. 2, or right engine.
The pilots will conduct accelerations, decelerations, in-flight engine shutdown and restart and other maneuvers, both normal and otherwise, according to the Houston-based carrier.
The experiment is part of the carrier’s commitment to reducing carbon emissions and identifying sustainable, long-term fuel solutions for the industry, Larry Kellner, Continental’s chairman and CEO, said in a prepared statement.
Continental said it now burns about 18 gallons of fuel to fly one passenger 1,000 miles, which is 35 percent less in terms of greenhouse gas emissions than in 1997.
Aviation consultant Bob Mann of R.W. Mann & Co. said several types of fuel sources are being considered by industry carriers.
“But I am afraid any commercialization for any of these processes are probably a decade away,” he said.
The Continental experiment is being done in conjunction with Boeing, GE Aviation, CFM International, refining technology developer UOP, a Honeywell company, and oil providers Sapphire Energy and Terrasol, which provided the algae and jatropha, respectively.
CFM is a joint venture of General Electric and Snecma.
The Japan Airlines flight, planned for Jan. 30, involves Sustainable Oils, a joint venture of Targeted Growth and a Houston-based company, Green Earth Fuels.