Continental Airlines Flight Demo Uses Sustainable Biofuels

Published on January 9th, 2009 | by

Last week we posted about the Emirates Airlines Green flight which offers some degree of green protocol but still the darn plane runs on pure petroleum. It looks like someone in the airline industry woke up because just a couple days ago Continental Airlines made a test run of a plane that runs on sustainable biofuel.

This commercial demo flight represents a first for North America airspace. It also marks the first sustainable biofuel demonstration flight by a commercial carrier using a two-engine aircraft, a Boeing 737-800 equipped with CFM International CFM56-7B engines.

We know your thinking that we’ll have to sacrifice our GMO, herbicide infested corn to create the fuel for us jet setters. These airline peeps got it right by the fact that the biofuel blend includes components derived from algae and jatropha plants, both sustainable, second-generation sources that do not impact food crops or water resources or contribute to deforestation. The algae oil comes via Sapphire Energy, and the jatropha oil by Terasol Energy.

This flight signifies the first time a commercial carrier will power a flight using fuel derived in part from algae. This biofuel blend consist of consists of 50 percent biologically-derived fuel and 50 percent traditional jet fuel, in the No. 2 engine. The aircraft’s No. 1 engine will operate on 100 percent traditional jet fuel, allowing Continental to compare performance between the biofuel blend and traditional fuel. So, think of it as B50 for planes. We can only hope for B100 for planes in the near future.

Even with a 50-50 blend, this biofuel will result in a significant net decrease in carbon emissions in comparison to traditional jet fuel, as both jatropha and algae consume carbon during their lifecycles.

Don’t be pestering your travel agent to book you on a Green Continental flight just yet. This test flight out of Houston’s Bush Intercontinental Airport lasted about two hours but carried no passengers. We would even sit in the middle seat in economy class between a soon-to-be-divorced couple for the chance to fly in this puppy.  Sure, some airlines talk about selling carbon offsets, recycling on-board and decreasing taxiing time in terms of Green transportation, which we of course support to varying degrees. But here Continental, Boeing, GE Aviation/CFM and UOP have created something tangible with good old American know how (like we used to) with this sustainable biofuel airline flight.

Now if they can only do something about the on-board air quality.


About the Author

Living in progressively Green San Francisco, Keith Rockmael works in Commercial Real Estate, Leasing and Business Opportunities with a special interest in Green Real Estate and Green Businesses. He also works with restaurants and bars in helping them to Green their businesses. Please contact him regarding health, business, environment or Green finance questions or referrals. He maintains his own blog at Greenerati.com. Contact him at: pepeflaco@gmail.com