The maiden voyage of Latin America's first biofuel flight took place recently thanks to TAM Airlines and Airbus. The Airbus A320 was powered by jatropha-based biofuel, processed by UOP LLC (Honeywell). 50% locally-sourced Brazilian jatropha-based bio-kerosene and 50% conventional aviation kerosene powered the CFM5 engines that carried 20 employees of TAM and Airbus on a 45 minute flight to and from Galeao Antonio Carlos Jobim International Airport in Rio Di Janeiro.
When compared with conventional aviation kerosene fuel, the use of jatropha-based biofuel in aviation is predicted to reduce TAM's carbon footprint by 80%. Airbus has developed plans that will hopefully make alternative fuel and biofuel a mainstay of aviation as a part of the company's ongoing efforts to ensure eco-efficient air travel. Before working with TAM, Airbus successfully completed the first ever flight by a commercial airline using Gas-to-Liquid (GTL), a developing technology that converts standard natural gas into synthetic gasoline, in February 2008. A year later, Airbus joined with Qatar Airways to conduct the first commercial flight to use 50% GTL.
Jatropha PlantsIf jatropha biofuel sounds familiar, this may be because it was in the news about a year ago. Long before their recent controversy, BP planned to invest $160 million in jatropha biofuel a couple years ago. However, BP turned down the offer to convert the jatropha tree into feedstock to make transportation fuel. BP was initially interested in the jatropha plant because it wouldn't compete with food crops (as corn would) since it is able to grow on marginal land. However, the marginal land proved to mean marginal yield, and when BP combined that factor with the problem of the plant's high need for water, they dropped the idea and decided to turn their attention elsewhere - like an oil spill perhaps!
Jokes aside, it appears Airbus and TAM aren't worried about Jatropha's shortcomings. Tom Enders, Airbus president and CEO, said, "Airbus and TAM have taken an important step in establishing an aviation biofuel solution that is both commercially viable and sustainable, with positive impact on the environment." He goes on to say, "This flight serves as evidence of the aviation industry's commitment to advance on its self-imposed CO2 reduction targets: carbon neutral growth from 2020, and working towards a 50% net CO2 reduction by 2050." Hopefully, the jatropha fueled flight will be a step towards those lofty goals.
Sources: Airbus and TrendHunter.com and The Wall Street Journal Blogs