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Planes Move Towards Plant-Based Fuel

Jet fuels made from plants such as jatropha and camelina are being tested by airlines like British Airways and Continental Airlines. Boeing Corporation has been working with various airlines to help them test the plant-based biofuels. These plant-based biofuels could help reduce carbon emissions from jet engines.

In the United States airlines produce about three percent of carbon dioxide generated in the United States.  One percent of all commercial airline jet fuel could be made from plant oils by 2015, to help reduce the impact on  climate change. One percent of annual commercial jet fuel consumption is equal to about 500-600 millions gallons, according to this recent article from the Seattle Times. (In the Pacific Northwest, Boeing, Alaska Airlines and Washington State University are working together to study how their region could produce biofuels for jets locally.)

Test flights have taken place over the last 2-3 years on Virgin Atlantic, Air New Zealand, Continental Airlines, and Japan Airlines which have used biofuels from jatropha, camelina, coconut- and babassu-derived biofuel blend and algae. The Air New Zealand flight actually used a blend with 50 percent biofuel. The use of biofuels in commercials jets has a potential to reduce greenhouse gas emissions tremendously. Camelina biofuel has been said to reduce greenhouse emissions by up to 80 percent. It is also being tested in a turboprop plane.

Camelina is in the same flower plant family as cabbage and cauliflower. Jatropha seeds contain up to 40 percent oil, and that is why they can be used to make biodiesel. So far however, growing Jatropha plants has not been standardized in a way to yield consistent oil quality. Alage oil is also a good candidate for making biofuel. Research is currently being conducted into how to maximize oil yields.

Image Credit: Wikki Commons

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11:20PM PDT on Jul 22, 2011

Thanks for the article.

12:08AM PDT on Aug 14, 2010

It's so sad that I'm not surprised that people can't even be glad for the ATTEMPT to make things better.

It's so sad that I'm not surprised that people can't even be glad for the baby steps taken that actually do head us in the direction of going green.

The idea that anyone can be so nonchalant about 500-600 MILLION GALLONS being saved (1%), is truly disgusting to me. So if you aren't 100% green RIGHT NOW, then you don't have a damn thing to criticize when others are at least trying to make a big difference. Clearly, one step at a time is unacceptable to you.

Using food crops to power machinery is not a good thing for hungry people. It will raise the price of those crops, and reduce the availability, too.

But I'm not opposed to experimenting with it in order to learn more about possible alternative fuels. Accidental finds happen all the time, as was the case with penicillin.

It's also quite possible that hybrid cars actually use more energy in the manufacture and shipping of parts all over the world. But, it is a start. And for the individual buyer, there is a break even point where the personal cost savings become significant.

1:03PM PDT on Aug 13, 2010

One can probably assume that switching from gasoline or diesel to biofuel or ethanol doesn't really benefit our planet as much as people are led to believe.

Just consider this idea another way for large corporations like Monsanto to make billions by misleading people and destroying our planet.

Its sort of like saying since most electrical companies use coal to make electricity, does using a hybrid or electrical car actually create more, less pollution, or the same pollution as a diesel vehicle?

12:52PM PDT on Aug 13, 2010

Ironically, I read in Organic Manifesto that corn grown for the sake of ethanol usually uses more petroleum (pesticides and artificial fertilizers) to grow than the amount of petroleum it was grown to replace.

2:14PM PDT on Aug 11, 2010

Oh, big whoop. A whole 1 percent! Geez, at the rate we are going towards sustainable alternatives, by the time we actually use them, the environment will already be destroyed. Besides, there are better alternatives to this, and they have been around for about 20 or so years now. The problem, of course, is that there is far more money to be made by selling oil than there is with plant based fuels. When companies hear "go green" they say they are going green, which is true, but their idea of "greener" is different from yours, I'm sure.

9:36AM PDT on Aug 10, 2010

I feel like this may be a lose-lose situation. Less CO2, but are the alternatives sustainable? Will we destroy even more by using them?

3:37PM PDT on Aug 7, 2010

This would reduce alot of pollution.

6:55PM PDT on Aug 5, 2010

Interesting and exciting news!

12:31AM PDT on Aug 5, 2010

If we would have followed Carter's plans, this would have been in effect by now. But hey, better late than never. I like this. Keep figuring it out, and it will be a reality.

10:55PM PDT on Aug 3, 2010

A possible savings of 500-600 millions gallons of gas in about 4-5 years? I like that. It's a start. But I have some of the same questions others have. So I guess all we can do is wait and see, and then campaign for or against when the info is made available.

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Disclaimer: The views expressed above are solely those of the author and may not reflect those of
Care2, Inc., its employees or advertisers.

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