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Air New Zealand tests jatropha biofuel

The first commercial aviation test flight powered by the second-generation biofuel jatropha has been successfully completed in Auckland, New Zealand.

A biofuel blend of 50:50 jatropha and Jet A1 fuel was used to power one of the Air New Zealand Boeing 747-400's Rolls-Royce RB211 engines, and more than a dozen key performance tests were undertaken in the two hour test flight.

"We undertook a range of tests on the ground and inflight with the jatropha biofuel performing well through both the fuel system and engine,” says Air New Zealand Chief Pilot Captain David Morgan.

The test flight is a joint initiative between Air New Zealand, Boeing, Rolls-Royce and Honeywell's UOP, with support from Terasol Energy.

The jatropha oil Air New Zealand sourced and refined for its test flight came from South Eastern Africa (Malawi, Mozambique and Tanzania) and India.

Once received from Terasol Energy, the jatropha oil was refined through a collaborative effort between Air New Zealand, Boeing and refining technology developer UOP, utilising UOP technology to produce jet fuel from renewable sources that can serve as a direct replacement to traditional petroleum-based fuel.

Tests were completed at various altitudes and under a variety of operating conditions to measure the biofuel's performance through the No.1 engine and fuel system.

The tests of the No.1 engine were as follows:

  • Take off: Full powered take off as per normal operating conditions;
  • Climb: Climb to 25,000 ft. Through 20-25,000 ft switch off No.1 engine fuel pump to check fuel lubricity;
  • Cruise: At 35,000 ft manually set all engine controls to check Engine Pressure Ratios (EPR) and other engine performance parameters;
  • Deceleration/acceleration: Measure rate of engine thrust changes;
  • Descent: Windmill start at 26,000 ft / 300 knots and starter-assisted relight at 18,000 ft / 200 knots;
  • Missed Approach: Simulated approach and go-around at 8,000 ft to test performance under maximum thrust;
  • Landing: Normal landing including full reverse thrust on touch down;
  • Taxi: Shut down and restart engine on ground.

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