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Continental Airlines Tests Sustainable Biofuels

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Continental Airlines has used sustainable biofuel to power a commercial aircraft.

The demonstration flight was conducted in partnership with Boeing, GE Aviation/CFM International, and Honeywell’s UOP using a two-engine aircraft - a Boeing 737-800 equipped with CFM International CFM56-7B engines.

“This demonstration flight represents another step in Continental’s ongoing commitment to fuel efficiency and environmental responsibility,” said Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Larry Kellner. “The technical knowledge we gain today will contribute to a wider understanding of the future for transportation fuels.”

 The biofuel blend includes components derived from algae and jatropha plants, both sustainable, second-generation sources that do not impact food crops or water resources or contribute to deforestation.

The algae oil provided by Sapphire Energy, and the jatropha oil by Terasol Energy.

Continental’s Boeing 737-800, tail number 516, departed from and returned to Houston’s Bush Intercontinental Airport operating under a specially-issued “Experimental” aircraft type certificate.

During the flight, which lasted approximately two hours, Continental test pilots engaged the aircraft in a number of normal and non-normal flight maneuvers, such as mid-flight engine shutdown and re-start, and power accelerations and decelerations. A Continental engineer  recorded flight data onboard.

The flight operated with a biofuel blend, which consists of 50% biologically- derived fuel and 50% traditional jet fuel, in the No. 2 engine. This biofuel blend will result in a significant net decrease in carbon emissions relative to traditional jet fuel, as both jatropha and algae consume carbon during their lifecycles. The aircraft’s No. 1 engine operated on 100% traditional jet fuel, allowing Continental to compare performance between the biofuel blend and traditional fuel.

The biofuel is a “drop-in” fuel, and no modifications to the aircraft or engine are necessary for the flight to operate. The biofuel meets and exceeds specifications necessary for jet fuel, including a flash point and a freezing point appropriate for use in aircraft.

“The simple combination of sunlight, CO2 and algae to produce a carbon-neutral, renewable fuel source has the potential to profoundly change the petrochemical landscape forever,” said Jason Pyle, Sapphire Energy CEO.

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