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Lufthansa flights take off using biofuel mix in engines

July 15, 2011|By Mary Forgione | Los Angeles Times Daily Travel & Deal blogger
(Markus Scholz / EPA )

Jatropha? Camelina? Animal fats? That's what Germany's Lufthansa Airlines is using to help power four daily flights between Hamburg and Frankfurt that began Friday.

Although other carriers, such as Virgin Atlantic and KLM Royal Dutch Airlines, have used biofuel on demonstration flights, Lufthansa claims it's the first passenger airline to use biofuel for scheduled daily flight operations. KLM last month said it plans to start using biofuel on more than 200 flights between Amsterdam and Paris in September.

The idea of Lufthansa's six-month test, of course, is to cut back on carbon dioxide emissions by using renewable fuel products. Here's how it works: One engine of an Airbus A321 jet will use a 50-50 mix of regular fuel and biosynthetic kerosene on the route.

So what is this stuff? Jatropha curcus is a succulent that produces seeds with 37%  oil content. Camelina sativa is another plant, a member of the mustard family that also produces oily seeds. And animal fat is just that.

Though it differs by size and model of aircraft, airplanes on average spew 244 pounds of carbon dioxide for every mile flown, BlueSkyModel.org says. Lufthansa estimated a savings of 1,500 tons of CO2 emissions during the test period.

Supplier Neste Oil says fuel quality is key to making sustainable biofuels a success for airlines. "Aviation fuels need to have high energy content and be capable of operating at very low temperatures," the company said in an online statement.

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