On January 7 a Boeing 737-800 owned by Continental Airlines will take off on a flight powered partly by algae. The two-engine plane will use regular jet fuel for one engine and a mix of jet fuel and biofuels made from algae and jatropha for the other. It will be the first flight by a commercial airline using algae as a fuel source.
It is not, however the first flight using biofuels. Air New Zealand flew one of its Boeing 747-400 aircraft from Auckland to Wellington on Tuesday with one engine powered by a 50-50 mix of jet fuel and jatropha oil.
Jatropha oil comes from the abundant seeds of the Jatropha curcas plant, which can grow in marginal soils almost anywhere. Along with switch grass and algae, jatropha is considered one of the most promising sources for biofuel production. Compared to petroleum-produced fuels, biodiesel significantly reduces the emissions of hydrocarbons, carbon monoxide, sulfates, particulate matter and other harmful gases.
Air travel now generates about 2 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, a figure that is expected to double in the next decade. The Air Transport Association , which represents 230 airlines, wants 10 percent of aviation fuel to come from biofuels by 2017.