Air China’s first aviation biofuel test

The successful collaboration by Air China, PetroChina, Boeing and Honeywell UOP confirmed China’s first demonstration flight powered by aviation biofuel.  The first airplane demonstration test was launched in Beijing Capital International Airport on October 28, 2011.


An hour long flight around Beijing by the 20-year old Air China 747-400 was powered in part by a biofuel produced from a shrub called Jatropha.  The trail used 13.1 tons of biofuel blend but for safety the jet’s other three engines was powered by conventional jet fuel.

The flight was deemed a success by Chinese aviation regulators, who represent an important global constituency that coordinates 15,000 commercial flights per day and one of the fastest-growing markets.

Air China has committed itself to green flight of what energy-saving and emission reduction is highly valued.  Through fleet optimization, second dispatch and a series of other actions, the operation efficiency is advanced, aviation kerosene is saved, and exhaust emission is dwarfed. Aiming at energy-saving and emission reduction, Air China created the Energy and Environment Test System in 2009 by itself, inaugurated its Green Flight in 2010, joined the Sustainable Aviation Fuel Users Group (SAFUG) and became the first carrier that launched the airplane demonstration test flight for biofuel in China in 2011.

Industry officials confirmed that the entire project was conducted in China.  “This is China making sure it is comfortable with it,” said Mark Allen, president of Boeing Co.’s China division.

The biofuel test flight was run in coordination with a number of companies, plus the General Aviation Administration of China.   The plane was operated by Air China and powered by United Technologies Corp. Pratt & Whitney engines – though only one of four was running the biofuel blend.

Honeywell International Inc. and PetroChina Co. cooperated on the fuel production.  Zhang Yufeng, vice-president of Honeywell’s specialty materials section said, “Raw material are a big problem, the materials cost means that the price is much higher than traditional fuel and the material cost for biofuel was about two or three times that of conventional fuel.”

Boeing’s Mr. Allen cheered the flight as an “A-Z biofuels test,” from “growth and harvest up through take-off and landing.” He quipped, “This is about biofuels with Chinese characteristics.”

Vice-president of Air China, He Li, said in order to make biofuel flights more commercially viable, large scale production is required.


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