First Biofuel Flight Across the Atlantic Seeks to Promote an Aviation Energy Alternative

View Images
A worker adds biofuel blend before the trans-Atlantic flight. Photo courtesy of Honeywell.

Perhaps there wasn’t the same fanfare that greeted the Spirit of St. Louis in 1927, but a corporate jet today completed a trans-Atlantic flight that is an important first in the effort to reduce aviation’s dependence on petroleum.

A Honeywell-operated Gulfstream G450 that took off Friday night from an airfield in Morristown, New Jersey and landed seven hours later in Paris became the first aircraft to fly from North America to Europe on a 50-50 blend of biofuel and petroleum-based jet fuel. The flight comes on the eve of the aviation industry’s huge Paris Air Show, and just after Hydrotreated Renewable Jet Fuel (HRJ) received its much-awaited initial certification from the standards-setting body, ASTM International.

Honeywell, which is a leading licenser of the HRJ technology, noted that the jet closely followed the route taken by Charles Lindbergh’s famous first solo flight across the Atlantic, seeking to underscore the historical import of the flight.

HRJ can be made from many different feedstocks–and debate is certainly ahead on which choice is most environmentally friendly, and whether the indirect land use impacts are cause for concern. The biofuel in this flight was derived from the oily seeds of the camelina, a relative of the mustard plant that is grown in rotation with wheat. It was grown and harvested by Sustainable Oils, a U.S.-based producer of camelina-based technology; its technology also has been tested by the U.S.Department of Defense.

“We’ve made no changes to the engine or the aircraft,” to accomodate the fuel, said Ron Weight, Honeywell chief pilot, before entering the cockpit. He said Honeywell aimed to demonstrate with its own fleet that its Green Jet Fuel is “a viable option for passenger travel.”

View Images
Photo courtesy of Honeywell

A number of large air carriers around the world are eyeing the possibility of integrating the new plant-based fuel into their fuel mix.  High oil prices have been a drag on the industry this year. Although biofuel at the outset will certainly be expensive, it could be competitively priced if production ramps up quickly enough. And in Europe, regulations that will force aviation to reduce carbon emissions are looming. According to Honeywell, the trans-Atlantic biofuel flight saved about 5.5 metric tons of net carbon dioxide emissions compared to a similar petroleum-powered flight.