KLM first to carry passengers in biofuel flight

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KLM yesterday operated the first biofuel test flight in which passengers were aboard, flying a Boeing 747-400 with one engine powered by a 50:50 mix of a camelina-based biofuel and traditional kerosene. The flight took off from Amsterdam Schiphol and carried 40 select passengers, including KLM President & CEO Peter Hartman, technical experts and a number of Dutch politicians. The aircraft stayed in the air for about 1.5 hour before returning to Amsterdam. The biofuel used on the KLM flight is believed to emit up to 80 percent less carbon dioxide than conventional kerosene.

The KLM demonstration is the fifth biofuel-blend test flight in the past two years. Previous biofuel test flights, operated without passengers, were conducted by Japan Airlines, Continental Airlines, Air New Zealand, and Virgin Atlantic. The aviation industry has rallied behind development of drop-in replacement jet fuel derived from plants, such as camelina and jathropa: Inedible green scrubs that provide high energy content, which can be grown on marginal land not being used for food crops. Boeing is also looking into developing fuels produced from algae.

Like previous flights, the KLM test used renewable jet fuel developed by UOP, a subsidiary of Honeywell. UOP says its renewable jet fuel can be used as a drop-in replacement requiring no changes to the aircraft technology when used up to a 50 percent blend. UOP expects the fuel to be approved for commercial use by the end of next year, and is talking to a number of potential licencees about building refineries, the first of which could be open in two-and-a-half years.

KLM also announced it has partnered with oil products and services company North Sea Petroleum and business development firm Spring Associates to form SkyEnergy. This new company is tasked with creating a commercially viable alternative jet fuel that does not jeopardize the food chain or cause deforestation or excessive water consumption. WWF, formerly known as the World Wildlife Fund, will advise SkyEnergy about ecological matters.

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