Air New Zealand Planning Jatropha-Fueled Test Flight

Air New Zealand Planning Jatropha-Fueled Test Flight

One of the only ways airlines will survive in a world of expensive oil is by experimenting with biofuels. Next month, Air New Zealand will attempt to fly a Boeing 747 using a mixture of biofuel and conventional fuel.

One of the plane's four engines will contain a 50/50 blend of conventional fuel and fuel made from jatropha seed oil. The jatropha plants used in the test were harvested in east Africa and can be grown in a variety of difficult conditions.

The flight, which is a cooperative effort between Rolls-Royce, Boeing, UOP, and Air New Zealand, will last for two hours.

The first biofuel-powered commercial flight was conducted by Virgin Airlines last February. The flight used a fuel made from coconuts and Brazilian babassu nuts in one engine. Other airlines planning biofuel test flights include Continental and Japan Airlines.

While using biofuel in half an engine is not groundbreaking, it is the first step towards flights powered fully by renewable fuel — a goal that could be within reach by 2015 according to some estimates.