Continental Airlines tests aviation biofuel; first use of algae; first US biofuel test flight; first two-engine flight

On January 8, 2009, a Continental Airlines Boeing 737 took off operating with a 50 percent biofuel blend during a two-hour test program, a flight test that was a complete success.  The flight, which included full power take off, a climb to 25,000 feet, cruise at 37,000 feet, and landing, presenting data that showed that the engines performed to the experimenters expectations.  Three additional tests have been arranged to test the jatropha-based biofuel.

The flight was the first test of biofuels by a North American airline; the first to use algae as a biofuel feedstock.  The biofuel for the flight was derived from jatropha, 47percent, 3 percent algae, and 50 percent Jet A.  The team that participated in the flight included the US Air Force, the FAA, Yale University, CAAFI, the Natural Resources Defense Council, and MIT.

President of engine manufacturer CFM International said that his company has been following a three-step process in reducing aviation emissions, including technical upgrades to the current generation of engines.  Jennifer Holmgren, general manager for UOP’s Renewable Energy unit, said “we are united by a common vision,” and stated that UOP and all the partners had been searching for fuels that were a drop-in replacement for current aviation fuel, meaning that there would be no engine or aircraft modifications, or additional infrastructure required.  UOP now has a fuel that meets the criteria of economically, environmentally, and socially sustainability.

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