November 3, 2008 Virgin Atlantic flew a Boeing 747 from Heathrow to Amsterdam using a biofuel/jet fuel mix earlier this year, and both Continental Airlines and Air New Zealand have announced plans to accomplish similar flights. Air New Zealand, Boeing, Rolls-Royce, and UOP aim to power one of four engines on a Boeing 747-400 on Jatropha-based bio-fuel.
Rolls-Royce is currently testing the fuel at its facility in Derby, UK, with the first test flight scheduled to take place in Auckland in December.
The Jatropha oil was produced from seeds grown on environmentally sustainable farms in Malawi, Mozambique, Tanzania and India. The plant, which can grow in arid, non-arable areas, is roughly three meters high, and produces 30-40% of its mass in inedible lipid oil. Jatropha oil fits the social, technical and environmental criteria pre-defined by the companies: it does not compete with existing food resources; it acts as a drop-in replacement for jet fuel; it is at least as good as product currently used; and it is cost competitive with currently used fuel.
The Jatropha plants were sourced from land that was not forest or virgin grassland within the last two decades, and were grown in areas unsuitable for food crops. The farms were not mechanically irrigated, relying on rainwater for sustenance. Terasol Energy was responsible for sourcing the Jatropha oil.