Jatropha-Derived Aviation Fuel in Testing at Rolls-Royce; Air NZ Test Flight Targeted for December

Jose Michael

Jatropha-Derived Aviation Fuel in Testing at Rolls-Royce; Air NZ Test Flight Targeted for December

Properties of UOP’s jatropha-based JP-8 military jet fuel as presented earlier this year at AIChE. Click to enlarge.

The jatropha-derived “green jet” fuel to power one of four engines on a test flight in an Air New Zealand Boeing 747-400 has arrived at the Rolls-Royce facility in Derby, UK, for testing prior to the flight.

Preliminary data shows the fuel meets all required specifications for use in commercial aviation and a technical team led by Rolls-Royce is now putting the fuel through further validation testing, according to Air New Zealand.

Subject to the fuel meeting the necessary scientific criteria, a test flight on an Air New Zealand Boeing 747-400, powered by Rolls-Royce engines RB211, will take place in Auckland in December, with an exact date to be confirmed once fuel testing is complete.

The test flight is a joint initiative between Air New Zealand, Boeing, Rolls-Royce and UOP, who produced the aviation biofuel. Using a feedstock-flexible method derived from its EcoFining process for producing renewable “green diesel” (earlier post), UOP deoxygenates the jatropha oil, then applies selective cracking and isomerization to produce synthetic paraffinic kerosene (SPK) that can then be blended with conventional aviation fuel at up to 50%.

UOP characterizes the green jet fuel as first-generation—derived from natural oils and fats. Using jatropha—an inedible oil—as a feedstock is a bridge to second-generation renewable aviation fuel, which will take lignocellulosic biomass and algal oils to a fully renewable jet fuel.

The jatropha oil Air New Zealand has sourced and refined for its test flight comes from South Eastern Africa (Malawi, Mozambique and Tanzania) and India. It was sourced from seeds grown on environmentally sustainable farms.

The partners have been non-negotiable about the social, technical and commercial criteria any environmentally sustainable fuel must meet for the test flight program.

First, the fuel source must be environmentally sustainable and not compete with existing food resources. Second, the fuel must be a drop-in replacement for traditional jet fuel and technically be at least as good as the product used today. Finally, it should be cost-competitive with existing fuel supplies and be readily available.

The test flight partners engaged Terasol Energy, a leader in sustainable jatropha development projects, to independently source and certify that the jatropha-based fuel for the flight met all sustainability criteria.

Air New Zealand, Boeing and UOP are members of the Sustainable Aviation Fuel Users Group, which has been established to accelerate the development and commercialization of sustainable new aviation fuels, while lessening commercial aviation’s exposure to oil price volatility and dependence on fossil fuels. (Earlier post.)


  • Feed-Flexible Processing of Oil-Rich Crops to Jet Fuel (UOP)

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