747-500 during the Bio Fuel test flight 747-500 during the Bio Fuel test flight CREDIT: Air New Zealand
747-500 during the Bio Fuel test flight 747-500 during the Bio Fuel test flight CREDIT: Air New Zealand
CREDIT: Air New Zealand

Air New Zealand Test Flight Proves Viability of Jatropha Biofuel

Tuesday 30 December 2008, 2:47PM
By Air New Zealand


The world's first commercial aviation test flight powered by the sustainable second-generation biofuel jatropha has been successfully completed in Auckland.


More than a dozen key performance tests were undertaken in the two hour test flight which took-off at 11:30am (NZ time) from Auckland International Airport.


A biofuel blend of 50:50 jatropha and Jet A1 fuel was used to power one of the Air New Zealand Boeing 747-400's Rolls-Royce RB211 engines.


At 1.30pm, Pilot in Command Captain Keith Pattie and Air New Zealand Chief Pilot Captain David Morgan stepped off the aircraft back at Auckland International Airport and informed invited guests about the outcomes of the flight.


“We undertook a range of tests on the ground and inflight with the jatropha biofuel performing well through both the fuel system and engine, just as laboratory tests proved it would,” said Mr Morgan.


“To complete our testing programme our engineers will over the next few days be thoroughly assessing the engine and fuel systems looking for any changes as a result of the use of biofuel.


“Together with our partners on this project we will then review all the results as part of our drive to have jatropha certified as an aviation fuel.”


The test flight is a joint initiative between Air New Zealand, Boeing, Rolls-Royce and Honeywell’s UOP, with support from Terasol Energy.


Air New Zealand Chief Executive Officer Rob Fyfe says the completion of the flight is a significant milestone and something every New Zealander should be proud of.


“It is Air New Zealand’s long-term goal to become the world’s most environmentally sustainable airline and we have today made further significant progress towards this,” says Mr Fyfe.


“Air New Zealanders are passionate about making a difference to the environment and as a result we have become a world leader in examining every aspect of our flight operations to reduce fuel consumption and our carbon emissions.”


“We stand at the earliest stages of sustainable fuel development and it is exciting to be a part of this important moment in aviation history.”


Captain Keith Pattie and his crew operated the test flight to the north-east of Auckland over the wider Hauraki Gulf area.


Tests were completed at various altitudes and under a variety of operating conditions to measure the biofuel’s performance through the No.1 engine and fuel system.


The tests of the No.1 engine were as follows:


Flight stage


Take off

Full powered take off as per normal operating conditions


Climb to 25,000ft. Through 20-25,000ft switch off No.1 engine fuel pump to check fuel lubricity


At 35,000ft manually set all engine controls to check Engine Pressure Ratios (EPR) and other engine performance parameters


Measure rate of engine thrust changes


Windmill start at 26,000ft / 300knots and starter-assisted relight at 18,000ft / 200knots

Missed Approach

Simulated approach and go-around at 8,000ft to test performance under maximum thrust


Normal landing including full reverse thrust on touch down


Shut down and restart engine on ground



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


Jatropha is a plant that grows to approximately three metres high and produces seeds that contain inedible lipid oil that is used to produce fuel. Each seed produces between 30 and 40 percent of its mass in oil and jatropha can be grown in a range of difficult conditions, including arid and otherwise non-arable areas, leaving prime areas available for food crops.


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


Firstly, the fuel source must be environmentally sustainable and not compete with existing food resources. Secondly, 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 criteria for sourcing the jatropha oil required that the land was neither forest land nor virgin grassland within the previous two decades. The quality of the soil and climate is such that the land is not suitable for the vast majority of food crops. Furthermore, the farms are rain-fed and not mechanically irrigated.


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.


Once received from Terasol Energy, the jatropha oil was refined through a collaborative effort between Air New Zealand, Boeing and leading refining technology developer UOP, utilising UOP technology to produce jet fuel from renewable sources that can serve as a direct replacement to traditional petroleum-based fuel.


Pictures and video of the test flight will be available later this afternoon at www.biofueltestflight.com or