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Alternative Fuel Flying: Is Jatropha Nut Oil the Anwer?
Topsy-turvy oil markets have got everybody in a tizzy these days, and the airline industry is no exception. Higher ticket prices are a drag, to be sure, but at least the economic shock is finally causing the major carriers to look into alternative fuels to power their fleets. A recent AP item points out that scientists are experimenting with various types of biodiesel jet fuels, an especially challenging proposition since there's little room for error at 35,000 feet.
Still, a few options look promising. South African carriers have been burning a jet fuel blend that uses "clean coal" as a primary ingredient for a decade already. And in February, Virgin Atlantic airlines flew a 747 that was partially powered by B20, a biodiesel made from babassu (a type of Amazon palm) and coconut oil. I wonder if the exhaust smelled like a piña colada. And there's even talk of harvesting algae to create fuel.
All eyes will be on Boeing and Air New Zealand later this year, though, as the companies prepare to test a fuel made from the oil of the jatropha tree. The homely-looking plant isn't good for food, but it grows easily in warm climates, doesn't require much water, and represents an economic opportunity for many impoverished people. Best of all, fuel made from the oil of jatropha nuts is significantly cheaper than crude oil, which is fortunate, because all the good intentions in the world won't create a market for alternative fuels unless it makes sense on the bottom line.
· Airlines Push for Homegrown Jet Fuel [AP]
· Virgin Atlantic Completes Biodiesel Test [Biofuels Digest]
· Jatropha Plant's Oil Studied as Biofuel for Jets [LA Times]
· Airline News [Jaunted]