Biofuel-powered commercial aviation finally takes off

A Continental Airlines Boeing 737 yesterday made the first U.S. flight running on an algae-based biofuel blend. That single flight alone may have saved the equivalent of 30,000 miles of one car's carbon dioxide emissions.

A Boeing 747-8 freighter taking off from Paine Field, in Everett, Wash. The plane was one of the first to fly a biofuel blend, and on Monday, Continental Airlines flew the first-ever U.S. passenger flight with an algae-biofuel blend. Daniel Terdiman/CNET

The era of American commercial airliners flying on biofuels is here.

A Continental Airlines Boeing 737-800 from Houston yesterday became the first U.S. plane to fly passengers while using an algae-based biofuel. According to an article originally published in the Houston Chronicle, the Continental flight carried 154 customers while using the fuel blend, which was developed by South San Francisco, Calif.-based Solazyme.

"United Continental Holdings, the airline's parent company, estimated that the biofuel blend on the Chicago-bound flight reduced carbon dioxide emissions by an amount equal to what would come from the exhaust of a car driven 30,000 miles," the Chronicle wrote, adding that Solazyme created the blend in tandem with Honeywell technology. United Continental is expected to purchase as much as 20 million gallons of the Solazyme blend for delivery by 2014. "The product...is put into a mix of 40 percent algae-based and 60 percent petroleum-based fuel."

The article also stated that although the fuel mixture onboard the flight was new, the Boeing 737 did not require any modifications in order to make it skyward.

This first flight of a biofuel-powered plane has been in the works for some time. Earlier this year, Boeing test-flew a next-generation 747-8 freighter across the Atlantic using a biofuel mixture. That flight was powered using a 15 percent camelina-based biofuel mix. And the industry has been pumping up anticipation for biofuels for some time. In 2009, the industry touted the potential economic benefits of flying greener biofuels. "Biofuels may even hold the promise of improved fuel efficiency on top of the potential to reduce emissions by up to 80 percent over the lifecycle of the fuel," an industry spokesperson said that year.

 

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