Honeywell jet fuel pushes the biofuel boundary

Technology giant Honeywell has announced a comprehensive test program for aviation biofuel which it claims will be the first of its kind in the airline industry.

The program will be carried out by UOP, a subsidiary of Honeywell, alongside the National Research Council of Canada (NRC) and Agrisoma Biosciences.

The program will test blends of Honeywell Green Jet Fuel at higher ratios than previous demonstration flights, which have so far not gone beyond the threshold of a 50/50 blend of biofuel and petroleum-based jet fuel.

Honeywell say the biofuel that it is using for the tests has been produced from what it calls “Resonance Energy Feedstock,” a new nonfood, industrial oilseed crop produced by Ottawa-based agribusiness Agrisoma. The feedstock is derived from Brassica carinata, belonging to the family of flowering plants known as Brassicaceae, which also includes cabbages and turnips.

Honeywell say the crop can be produced in semiarid areas usually unsuitable for food oilseed production, meaning it will not compete with food crops for land resources–one of the common concerns raised by opponents of biofuel crops.

The crop used for the jet was grown in Kincaid, Saskatchewan, last summer, Honeywell said.

“This is a unique program of test flights, given that we are using a new feedstock to produce the Honeywell Green Jet Fuel, and it will be used in higher ratio than before,” Jim Rekoske, vice president and general manager of the Honeywell UOP’s Renewable Energy and Chemicals business unit, said in a statement. “Additionally, the collection of in-flight emission will allow for further verification of the superior environmental performance of Honeywell Green Jet Fuel.”

The flights will be conducted on a modified Falcon 20 twin-engine jet. The Falcon will be followed by a trailing aircraft which will collect emissions from the test plane for later evaluation. According to Honeywell, previous testing had shown a 60 to 85 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions when Honeywell Green Jet Fuel was used instead of petroleum-based fuels.

More pressure is being brought to bear on the airline industry to switch to biofuels. Since last summer–when the aviation regulators first approved the use of biofuels in commercial flights–a number of major airlines have begun trials using a mix of petroleum-based fuel and fuel derived from crops.

Dutch carrier KLM was the first to operate a passenger flight with a green fuel mix. Even so, none of the airlines has so far exceeded a 50/50 mix, which is the level approved by American Society for Testing and Materials, the worldwide standards body.

Honeywell Green Jet Fuel is already being used to power a regular passenger service operated by Aeromexico between Mexico City and San José, Costa Rica. The Mexican carrier uses an 85/15 combination, with the green fuel making up the smaller proportion of the fuel mix. The service, which began using the Honeywell product last November, is one of the first uses of renewable fuels in everyday airplane passenger service.

* Paul Willis, EarthTechling