Boeing Biodiesel Study Backs Up Earlier Claim

John Davis

boeing11About three weeks ago, Boeing officials proclaimed that biodiesel is just fine to use in aircraft. Now, they’ve backed up that claim with a study that proves biodiesel’s effectiveness in flight.

Forbes reports that the Boeing study was released during the Paris Air Show and found that a series of tests by Japan Airlines, Air New Zealand and Continental Airlines has shown that the green fuel performed “as well or better” than traditional petroleum-based jet fuel:

The green fuels met benchmarks for standards such as freezing point, viscosity and fuel density, Boeing said. The tests also found the blends had greater energy content by mass than regular jet fuel, meaning they could help airlines use less fuel per mile. In the three test flights, the fuel blend was half regular fuel, half biofuel.

“This is a huge, huge validation of where biofuels can go,” says John Plaza, the chief executive of Imperium Renewables, a Seattle biodiesel company that supplied fuel for a Virgin Atlantic test flight last year. (That flight wasn’t included in Boeing’s tests.) Plaza stressed, however, that jet biofuels are created with more sophisticated processing techniques than traditional biodiesel, which is also derived from plants but powers cars, trucks and ships.

Still, “this is technology we’re interested in pursuing,” Plaza said in an interview with Forbes. Imperium’s main plant in Washington state is not producing any biodiesel now but hopes to start up again if demand picks up and the credit market thaws.

Boeing officials say they want to subject the biodiesel to international testing standards so that it can be used in commercial airline operations in the next few years.