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Flying on a Wing and Oil from Plants

A new era in aviation dawned this week in the U.S. with the first flights powered by biofuels. David Biello reports

If you flew from Houston to Chicago on November 7, your jet might have been fueled by something new—specially grown algae.

United Flight 1403 burned a blend of traditional petroleum-based jet fuel and bio-jet fuel refined from algal oil.

And on November 9, Alaska Airlines flew the first of a planned 75 flights on a blend of regular kerosene and synthetic fuels made from used cooking oil.

Bio-jet fuel has gone commercial.

Over the last five years, Boeing, the U.S. Air Force and Navy, Honeywell UOP and others have systematically tested and advanced the alternative fuel. Bio-jet fuel has been made from the plants jatropha, camelina and others.

With new regulations on CO2 emissions expected in the E.U., cutting carbon is a new flight deck priority. Bio-jet fuels are at least six times more expensive for now, but also allow airlines to combat climate change—the CO2 spewed by burning the bio-jet fuel is equal to the CO2 absorbed during plant growth. And planes fly further on the new fuel.

In fact, since July European airlines have been flying on bio-jet blends. Seems like they’re really taking off.

—David Biello

[The above text is a transcript of this podcast.]

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