Continental Airlines tests biofuel in Boeing 737

By Susanne Retka Schill | January 01, 2009
Web exclusive posted Jan. 9, 2009, at 1:16 p.m. CST

Continental Airlines successfully demonstrated the use of a biofuel blend to power a commercial aircraft for the first time in North America on Jan. 7. The demonstration flight was conducted in partnership with the Boeing Co.; UOP LLC, a Honeywell company; and GE Aviation and its subsidiary CFM International. No passengers were on the flight. Several other global airlines have conducted similar flights using a two-engine aircraft and a Boeing 737-800 equipped with CFM International CFM56-7B engines.

During the test flight, a 50-percent biofuel blend produced using algae and jatropha oil was used to operate one engine, while the other one ran on traditional jet fuel. Algae oil was provided by San Diego-based Sapphire Energy and jatropha oil by India-based Terasol Energy. The oils were processed using UOP's proprietary hydro-processing technology, which creates a hydrocarbon similar in properties to petroleum-based jet fuel. The biofuel is a "drop-in" fuel, and no modifications to the aircraft or engine are necessary. The biofuel meets and exceeds specifications necessary for jet fuel, including a flash point and a freezing point appropriate for use in aircraft.

During the nearly two-hour demonstration flight, Continental's test pilots successfully conducted a number of normal and non-normal flight maneuvers, such as mid-flight engine shutdown and re-start, and power accelerations and decelerations. Preliminary data suggests that the biofuel met all performance requirements as compared to traditional jet fuel, a Continental spokesman said. The airline will work with its partners to do a post-flight examination of the engine.

Continental worked with Boeing, GE Aviation/CFM and UOP for more than nine months to carefully evaluate and test the biofuel in engines on the ground prior to the flight demonstration.
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