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Japan Airlines plans biofuel test flight

by Staff Writers
Tokyo (AFP) June 23, 2008
Japan Airlines (JAL) said Monday that it will join a project by US aircraft maker Boeing to test biofuel for commercial airplanes as part of efforts to cope with soaring jet fuel costs.

JAL, Asia's largest carrier, will fly a Boeing 747 partly using biofuel by March next year, the company said, adding that it will be the first such flight in Asia.

"The technology to produce biofuel from plants is rapidly being developed in the world as an alternative to replace fossil fuel," said JAL president Haruka Nishimatsu.

"Such technological development will meet the need for higher sustainability in the aviation industry," he said at a joint press conference with officials from Boeing and airplane engine maker Pratt and Whitney.

JAL will use conventional jet fuel mixed with second-generation biofuel produced from non-foodstuffs to power one of four engines on a Boeing 747. The type of biofuel or ratio of the mix has not yet been decided.

The JAL flight is expected to be the fourth for the Boeing project. Virgin Atlantic has already conducted a demonstration flight, while Air New Zealand and Continental Airlines also plan tests, the Japanese carrier said.

JAL has made strenuous cost-cutting efforts to cope with rising fuel costs and a series of safety scares that benefitted rival All Nippon Airways.

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The answer to the looming fuel crisis in the 21st century may be found by thinking small, microscopic in fact. Microscopic organisms from bacteria and cyanobacteria, to fungi to microalgae, are biological factories that are proving to efficient sources of inexpensive, environmentally friendly biofuels that can serve as alternatives to oil, according to research presented at the 108th General Meeting of the American Society for Microbiology in Boston.

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