Continental Airlines Biofuel

Continental Airlines Tests Biofuel Blend

Written by Brian Hicks
Posted June 18, 2009

Representatives from Continental Airlines have announced that the company's recent biofuel test on a Boeing 737-800 delivered an increase of 1.1 percent in fuel efficiency, and a 60 to 80 percent reduction in emissions compared to traditional jet fuel.

The biofuel blend was a mix of traditional jet fuel and a biofuel derived from algae and jatropha - two feedstocks that are gaining in popularity with both environmentalists and biofuel producers.

Algae-based biofuels are still relatively new, with mostly demonstration plants in operation now. But the outlook is promising.

One advantage to algae is its potential oil yield per acre. Early research indicates that there is a significant increase in oil yield compared to the traditional feedstocks we use today, like palm and soy. Also, unlike a lot of other biofuel feedstocks, algae offers less water waste. In fact, it can grow in brackish, saline and wastewater - thereby reducing fresh water for growth. Incidentally, the nutrients in wastewater actually feed algae, making it possible to cultivate at any one of the 5,100 wastewater treatment facilities operating in the U.S.

Additional benefits include...

  • No one country has a monopoly on algae production or algae production equipment.

  • Algae can grow in temperatures ranging form below freezing to 158 degrees Fahrenheit.

  • It does not compete directly with food crops.

  • Algae biofuels offer value-added byproducts, such as syngas, high-protein animal feeds, and biopolymers.

  • The algae growth cycle can actually be used as a carbon sequestration mechanism, because CO2 is the primary input required for algae to grow.

Of course, since we are in the earliest stages, algae-based biodiesel is also cost prohibitive right now. But as with anything. . . if there's potential, those costs will come down.

Jatropha is also quite popular these days, as this is also not a food crop. In fact, it's actually poisonous if eaten. Jatropha also grows extremely fast, and can be grown on virtually barren land with little rainfall. It can survive up to three years of consecutive drought conditions, and live for up to 50 years.

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