The world’s first biofuel passenger flight will lift off in April 2011 and run between Hamburg and Frankfurt four times daily for six months. Lufthansa, Germany’s largest airline, is taking part in a government-backed study to investigate the long-term effects of biofuels on airplane engines.
Acquiring real-world data on jet biofuels is incredibly important for continuing development. Air Japan and Air New Zealand have already experimented with biofuels, but Lufthansa says it will be the first to test it on a standard schedule.
The entire project will cost Lufthansa $8.7 million and the German government $2.5 million; a large chuck of the cost is the biofuel itself, which the airlines estimates as being three to five times more expensive.
But the airline is still dedicated to finding sustainable alternative fuels. Last year, Lufthansa joined the Sustainable Aviation Fuel Users Group and applied for membership to the European Algae Biomass Association in hopes of continuing research.
In the World Resources Institute’s Environmental Trends to Watch in 2007, WRI president Jonathan Lash said, “The difficulty with airlines is as of now there aren’t any alternative fuels. There aren’t any alternative engines.”
Just three years later, Lufthansa will be using a blend of fuels made from 50 percent vegetable oil. Lufthansa says that even though biofuels made from plants do release carbon dioxide, the process remains a closed ecological cycle because the plants release only want plants take from the atmosphere for growth.
The airline also estimates that biofuels can reduce carbon emissions by up to 80 percent compared with kerosene. By mixing biofuels with traditional kerosene for one engine on the flights between Hamburg and Frankfurt, the airline estimates it will save about 1,500 metric tons of CO2 over the six-month span.
Jet fuel has to act a little differently than regular fuel used in cars or trucks, due to elevation and higher engine temperatures. Jet fuel blends almost always have kerosene, because it’s relatively cheap, has a high energy density and extremely low freezing point. But kerosene is produced from distilling crude oil, a reducing resource whose increasing cost, Lufthansa predicts, will cripple an already limping airline industry.
Lufthansa, along with the Advisory Council for Aeronautics Research in Europe, hopes to cut their CO2 emissions by 50 percent in the next 10 years with the help of biofuels and alternative fuel.
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