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In recent test flights Continental Airlines, Virgin Airlines, and Japan Airlines ran one engine of a two engine aircraft on biofuels.  The biofuel mixtures were from different derivatives for each airline.  Continental ran on an algae mixture, while Virgin used a hybrid conventional jet fuel made from coconut and babassu nuts.  Japan airlines ran its engine on camelina, a weedy flower from Europe.  The flights lasted from 40 minutes to 90 minutes proving the viability of biofuels in aviation.  Currently the aviation industry uses over 60 billion gallons of jet fuel on an annual basis.  The greatest challenge for this industry and even our cars, is the ability to meet the demand with biofuels.  This past month the International Air Transport Association mandated that by 2020 their members would achieve neutral carbon growth.  Meaning that they would not exceed CO2 levels at current levels.  This means a 1.5% annual reduction in their CO2 output, even as air traffic is suppose to grow once the global recession ends.  To achieve this number the airlines will need to move to more fuel efficient aircraft and use a higher percentage of biofuels ( I don’t think we’ll ever see an electric jet plane.)   Just how practical is the use of biofuels?  In my opinion not great, unless we can find ways to increase the yields from algae and provide it at a competitive cost.  We also have to consider the cost of converting forests to agricultural lands to increase the yield demands for biofuels, and from possibly diverting food yields from people.  If Biofuels are to meet the demands of society, we are going to have to re-examine where we will grow them, and just how much tillable land we are willing to hand over for these future fuel sources.

John Vlahakis

Running on algae
Running on algae

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