Airlines Seek Alternative Fuels


Authored by Jon Mercer in Transportation
Published on 07-05-2009

The aviation industry has been so damaged by the high cost of fuel, that it is willing to try anything as an alternative to petroleum-based fuel. Everything from algae to jatropha is being sought as an alternative to the high-priced jet fuel currently being used as the industry standard.

On Wednesday, Continental Airlines will test a fuel made from algae and jatropha, a tropical shrub that has an oil- bearing seed. The test will be performed using a Boeing 737 jetliner in a two-hour flight that will originate and end in Houston. The test flight will mark the first use of biofuels in a twin-engine jet. While similar tests have been conducted in four-engine jet planes, it will be more critical in a twin-engine jet because if an engine fails in a twin-engine plane there is only one left to safely land the aircraft.

During this Wednesday’s test flight, Continental require its pilots to turn off and restart the engine that is running on the fifty-percent blend of regular jet fuel and plant-based fuel. The crew will also simulate breaking off an approach. This maneuver requires high power from both engines.

With the drop in the price of crude oil, the price of jet fuel has decreased as well; however, airline executives say they are determined to find an environmentally friendly, as well as inexpensive, source of fuel for their aircraft. Jet fuel is, by far, the greatest expense in running an airline. This will be the first time in the industry’s history that switching to a new type of fuel is being seriously considered.

The airlines say that it is proof of their commitment to finding green fuel sources that they are continuing to search for petrol alternatives even when the price of fuel has decreased and is much more affordable. The Federal Aviation Administration is encouraging the use of new alternative fuels and The International Air Transportation Association has a goal of ten-percent alternative fuels by 2017.

Economists for the industry say that until the alternative fuels are available in large volumes, the price will be similar to the price they are paying for fuel now. They say that the price will also fluctuate with the cost of petroleum based fuels much in the same way that the price of ethanol, an additive in gasoline, fluctuates with the crude oil market. The airline industry is also planning to do more testing with alternative fuels made from camelina and palm oil.

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