Mexico hosts successful biofuels test flight

By Erin Voegele | April 08, 2011

Interjet and Airbus conducted the first jatropha-based biofuel test flight in Mexico recently. The Airbus 320 jet successfully flew from Mexico City’s International Airport to Angel Albino Corzo of Tuxtla Gutierrez airport in the southern State of Chiapas. One of the aircraft’s two engines was fueled with a 30 percent biojet blend.

Jatropha-based jet fuel used in the flight was manufactured by Honeywell’s UOP. According to Honeywell, its Green Jet Fuel process technology was originally developed in 2007 under a contract from the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency to produce renewable military jet fuel for the U.S. military. “The process is based on hydroprocessing technology commonly used in today’s refineries to produce transportation fuels,” said Honeywell in a press release announcing the flight. “In this process, hydrogen is added to remove oxygen from natural oils produced from sustainable feedstocks, including camelina, jatropha and algae.” Results of previous demonstration flights using the fuel have showed that Honeywell’s Green Jet Fuel performed as well, or better, than petroleum-based jet fuel in many key performance areas.

Entities that provided jatropha feedstock for the test flight include the Chiapas state government, Bencafser S.A., and Energy JH S.A., and Globales Energia Renovables, a wholly owned subsidiary of U.S.-based Global Clean Energy Holdings Inc. According to Global Clean Energy Holdings’ President and CEO Richard Palmer, his company has been working with Mexico’s Airports and Auxiliary Services (ASA) on this bio-based jet fuel project, called Bio-Turbosina. “We’ve been a part of that program for quite some time,” he said. “We participated on the team and we provided jatropha feedstock to make the biojet fuel.”

According to Palmer, his company is the largest commercial jatropha farming operation in the Americas. “We have a several farms, primarily located on the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico.” We’ve been doing extensive research work in jatropha since 2006, he continued, noting that commercial cultivation of jatropha at the company’s Mexican farms began in 2008. “We own just under 10,000 acres of land and have more than 5 million trees already planted,” Palmer said. “We just acquired more land to expand our farms. As capital allows, we will continue to grow and expand our farming operations. We’re very committed to it. This isn’t a side business, this is our only focus, and we will continue to aggressively work on the plant and soil sciences, with genetics breeding, nutrition and horticulture practices.”

Palmer was on the test flight along with executives representing several other companies involved in the project. “It was very successful,” he said. “It was exciting…after we took off, everyone applauded—as you can well imagine, we applauded louder when we landed. During the flight there was a lot of discussion amongst those on the plane about the commercial impact of the test flight on biofuels production usage in aviation.”

“ASA’s leadership and commitment to identifying local and sustainable sources of aviation biofuel for Mexico have been instrumental in making this flight a reality,” said Jim Rekoske, vice president and general manager of Renewable Energy and Chemicals for Honeywell’s UOP. “ASA, Interjet, Airbus, CFM [International] and UOP share a vision that Green Jet Fuel can help address our transportation needs while reducing greenhouse gas emission and helping the Mexican rural economy.”

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