Intelligent Energy

Will the real biofuel Lindbergh please stand up?

Posting in Energy

Now Boeing takes a turn at claiming it will be the first at crossing the Atlantic non-stop in a biofuel-powered jet. The real winner? Read on...

If only this week’s lunar eclipse could have waited until the weekend. Then we might have discovered what effect plant-based fuel vapor would have on the moon’s appearance when the earth blocks the sun.

That’s because the trans-Atlantic skies will be relatively full of biofuel-powered jet planes starting on Friday. Okay, the airways will have two such craft. But that’s two more than have crossed the ocean non-stop in all of history.

It also doubles the number – one - that excited plenty of aviation enthusiasts earlier this week, when SmartPlanet broke the news that Honeywell is scheduled to fly the first ever non-stop trans-Atlantic biofuel flight this Friday.

Pilot Ron Weight is ferrying two of the company’s executives from Morristown, N.J. to the Paris Air Show via a Gulfstream G450, powered by plant-based jet fuel made by Honeywell’s petrochemical division, Honeywell UOP.

Today, Boeing got in on the buzz. It issued a press release claiming that it will fly the “first transatlantic flight of a biofuel-powered commercial airplane” this Sunday. Three pilots – Keith Otsuka (pictured), Rick Braun and Sten Rossby will land in Paris on Monday.

Hmmm, Sunday. That’s two days after Honeywell’s Friday flight. So how could Boeing be first? The key, of course, is in the words “commercial airplane.” Boeing is flying a 747-8 cargo plane, bigger than the corporate jet that Honeywell is flying. The 747 is taking off from Everett, Washington, a continent further from Paris than Honeywell’s New Jersey flight.

Okay so Boeing’s is bigger and longer. But Honeywell’s is first. And Honeywell is using a 50/50 blend of biofuel and conventional jet fuel, whereas Boeing is settling for a 15% biofuel mix.

Both flights should further prove that jet biofuels are technically up to the task of getting modern planes from here to Timbuktu. Biofuel adoption would potentially slash the CO2 emissions of the airline industry, which uses petroleum-based jet fuel.

ASTM, a key standards body, looks ready to give final approval to jet biofuels as early as July 1. Then commercial flights can start. Lufthansa is already readying its Hamburg-to-Frankfurt route.

If only prices would tumble and biofuel makers could truly avoid competing against food, water and land that sustains populations.

Oh, the clear winner in this weekend’s leapfrog across the Atlantic? It’s Honeywell UOP. Both flights will use its Green Jet Fuel, based on camelina, an inedible plant.

Photos: Boeing

Related Posts:

Honeywell: The Lindbergh of aviation biofuels

Carbon air war looms

Making biofuels fly

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Mark Halper

Contributing Editor

Mark Halper has written for TIME, Fortune, Financial Times, the UK's Independent on Sunday, Forbes, New York Times, Wired, Variety and The Guardian. He is based in Bristol, U.K. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure