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01 October 2023

Alternative fuels take centre stage

Air New Zealand said it had proved the commercial viability of jatropha oil as an alternative fuel on its flight. (GETTY IMAGES)

By Shweta Jain
From Qatar Airways to Virgin Atlantic and most recently Air New Zealand, 2008 became the year of testing alternative fuels for airlines.

They are experimenting with alternative fuels in order to cut costs after prices of kerosene-based jet fuel rose to record levels last year even as governments worldwide are aiming to reduce carbon emission levels.

The latest to join the alternative fuels bandwagon is Air New Zealand, which said last week its flight in one of its Boeing 747-400 jetliners proved the commercial viability of jatropha oil as an alternative fuel.

The Auckland-based airline's trial, a joint programme with the Rolls-Royce Group and Honeywell International, tested a 50-50 blend of jatropha oil and conventional jet fuel in one of the aircraft's four engines.

Meanwhile, the Doha-based Qatar Airways, the first airline to announce its experiment with alternative fuels, is not too far from achieving its goal of flying airplanes on natural gas.

The airline is working closely with Qatar Petroleum, Qatar Fuel Company, Airbus, Rolls-Royce, Shell International Petroleum Company and the Qatar Science and Technology Park to study benefits of synthetic jet fuel.

The objective behind is to address the feasibility and potential benefits of using gas to liquid (GTL) synthetic jet fuels. GTL is a technology that takes natural gas and converts it into liquid kerosene.

In February 2008, UK-based entrepreneur and founder of Virgin Atlantic Airlines, Sir Richard Branson, tested a plane fuelled by coconut and babassu nut biofuel mixture.

The airline successfully flew one of its Boeing 747s using a sustainable type of biofuel, from London to Amsterdam. Branson told Emirates Business he is "all for making airspace a pollution-free field for airlines across the world". The founder and chairman of the Virgin Group said he plans to go one step ahead and grow algae plants to deliver alternative fuels for aircraft engines.