Continental Airlines today became the first North American airline to demonstrate the use of sustainable biofuel to power a commercial aircraft when one of its Boeing 737-800s took off from George Bush Houston Intercontinental Airport shortly after noon local time fueled in part with algae and jatropha oil. Powered by its two CFM International CFM56-7B engines, the 737-800, tail number 516, flew under a specially-issued experimental type certificate and carried no passengers.
The Continental demo came only about a week after Air New Zealand flew a Boeing 747-400 that used a 50-50 blend of jatropha oil and conventional jet fuel in one of that airplane’s four Rolls-Royce RB211s.
The latest demonstration flight–conducted in partnership with Boeing, GE Aviation/CFM International, and Honeywell's UOP–also marks the first time a commercial carrier powered a flight using fuel derived in part from algae.
Sapphire Energy supplied the algae component of the biofuel and Terasol Energy the jatropha oil. One engine ran on regular jet fuel and the other on a 50-50 mix of conventional fuel and the biofuel. The tests will allow Continental to directly compare the performance of the two engines, which themselves have not undergone modification. During the two-hour flight, Continental test pilots engaged the aircraft in a number of normal and non-normal flight maneuvers, such as midflight engine shutdown and restart and power accelerations and decelerations.
“This demonstration flight represents another step in Continental's ongoing commitment to fuel efficiency and environmental responsibility,” said chairman and CEO Larry Kellner. “The technical knowledge we gain today will contribute to a wider understanding of the future for transportation fuels.”