Lufthansa Operates First Biofuel Transatlantic Flight to US

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Published: February 21, 2012

Lufthansa (LH) concluded a long-term biofuel study by operating the world’s first biofuel-powered transatlantic commercial flight to the US.

Flight LH 418 landed at Washington Dulles Jan. 12 after an 8-hr. and 20 min. flight from Frankfurt (FRA). The Boeing 747-400 carried approximately 40 tons of biofuel mix. LH said carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions were reduced by about 38 tons.

Captain Rudolf Seebass and flight officer Daniel Rieter commanded the flight and said it was a totally normal revenue flight. Passengers were informed once onboard that biofuel would be used and were given explanatory brochures. “They applauded when the announcement was made,” Seebass said.

Through its burnFAIR project, LH was the first airline to use biofuel on regularly scheduled commercial flights in an effort to study the long-term effect of biofuel on engine maintenance and engine life, as well as the environmental impact.

From July 15 to Dec. 27, 2011, a LH Airbus A321 operating on the Hamburg-FRA route had its starboard engine powered by a 50-50 blend of regular fuel and biosynthetic kerosene. In all, 1,187 biofuel flights were conducted and, according to initial calculations, total consumption of the biokerosene mix amounted to 1,556 tons and CO2 emissions were reduced by 1,471 tons.

LH conducted four daily roundtrip flights on the route. A single dedicated Airbus A321 was used on all flights, each about an hour long.

“This is the best news we could give the industry because it shows that we really can do normal operations with biofuel,” said LH VP-Aviation Biofuel Joachim Buse.

Buse said when the engine was examined at the end of the trials, it looked brand new. He said this showed that biofuels were “fit for purpose and require no changes in operation.”

He said the transatlantic flight was particularly important because if LH could use biofuels on all US flights, it estimates it could reduce CO2 emissions by about 15,000 tons per week. The airline operates around 400 weekly flights to 17 US cities.

The biofuel mix used by LH is mostly based on Camelina oil from the US with some Jatropha-based oil from Brazil and some animal fat from Finland.

Buse said the burnFAIR project has proved that biofuels are completely feasible for commercial flights from a technological standpoint. The issue is how to produce sufficient and sustainable feedstocks at a viable cost. “From now on, it’s purely a commercial issue,” Buse told ATW .

Government assistance and new commercial practices will be necessary, however. Some of the plants that provide the bases of biofuels take up to four years to establish and their yields must be increased to make them viable because they currently cost about two-and-a-half times the price of conventional fuel.

Buse said that the cost of the LH project was about €6.6 million ($ 8.4 million); the airline received €2.5 million of German government subsidies toward this.

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