Jatropha plant's oil studied as
biofuel for jets
Jun 5, 2008 - Los Angeles Times
The easily grown weed produces oil that is about a
third the cost of crude and doesn't have the environmental
drawbacks of ethanol. Air New Zealand plans test flights
KUNIA, Hawaii -- If all goes well this summer, an
Air New Zealand 747 jumbo jet will take off from Auckland
this fall with one of its four engines powered by
fuel refined from the seed of a fast-growing weed.
The three-hour test flight could mark one of the
more promising -- and more unusual -- steps by the
financially strapped airline industry to find cheaper
and more environmentally friendly alternatives to
"We're confident that the test will go well," said
David Morgan, the carrier's general manager for airline
operations, before leading visitors to a farm here
where the weeds are being researched. If the flight
is successful "it'll be a real milestone not only
for Air New Zealand but for aviation."
The secret: oil from poisonous seeds of the jatropha
tree, which grows in warm climates around the world.
For the past year, a team of scientists here have
been perfecting a process for turning the oil into
jet fuel. On Wednesday, the airline announced plans
to use these alternative biofuels for 10% of its needs
The test flight is particularly noteworthy because
it will come at a time when ethanol and other biofuels
have come under increasing scrutiny because of their
side effects. Production of ethanol has been blamed
for corn shortages that have contributed to higher
food prices. Others have been blamed for deforestation
and contributing to global warming.
The test will also come as escalating fuel prices
are prompting airlines to raise air fares and jam
more people into fewer, more fuel-efficient planes.
With jet fuel prices up 70% from a year ago, U.S.
carriers could see losses of more than $7 billion
this year, airline analysts estimate.
On Wednesday, United Airlines, the nation's second
largest carrier, said it plans to ground 100 older,
fuel-guzzling planes and shed up to 1,600 jobs as
a way to cope with escalating jet fuel costs.
"This is an extraordinary crisis with the potential
to reshape the industry with impacts throughout the
global economy," said Giovanni Bisignani, chief executive
of the International Air Transport Assn., as he opened
an annual gathering of airline executives in Istanbul
A partial solution may lie here on a hillside with
a vista of Honolulu, where Air New Zealand and aircraft
maker Boeing Co. have been working with Hawaiian agriculture
experts to develop a strain of weed that could help
the industry lessen its dependence on crude oil.