Boeing 747-8: Fueled and ready to push envelope for biofuel flight

Boeing ground crews have loaded the new Boeing 747-8 Freighter with a biofuel blend for its flight from the Seattle area to the Paris Air Show. It will be be the first time a commercial jetliner crosses the Atlantic Ocean on biofuels.

By Bernard Choi

It’s a big deal when a new airplane makes its international debut at a major air show. But the Boeing 747-8 Freighter’s first trip to the Paris Air Show will likely be remembered more for how it got there.

Boeing ground crews have pumped the new airplane with a biofuel blend that will power it from Everett, Wash. to Paris. The flight will mark the world’s first commercial airplane to cross the Atlantic Ocean using biologically-derived fuel.

“This historic flight is a boost to aviation’s efforts to reduce carbon emissions and improve efficiency in all phases of our industry,” said 747-8 Vice President and General Manager Elizabeth Lund. “And the 747-8 Freighter fits in well with these efforts by bringing huge improvements in fuel efficiency, lower carbon emissions and less noise.”

“It’s great to show the world what we’re doing and what we’re working on and the benefits of working with sustainable biofuel,” said Stan Zukowski, a member of the airplane’s ground operations team.

Boeing pilots Capt. Keith Otsuka and Capt. Rick Braun and Cargolux Capt. Sten Rossby will fly the airplane with each of the 747-8 Freighter’s four General Electric GEnx-2B engines powered by a blend of 15 percent camelina-based biofuel mixed with 85 percent traditional kerosene fuel (Jet-A).

It’s a milestone years in the making.

When Boeing engineers began designing a new version of the 747, one of their goals was to improve the airplane’s environmental performance. At around the same time, a group of Boeing researchers set out to reduce aviation’s carbon footprint by supporting the development and testing of sustainable biofuels.

This summer, the 747-8 Freighter is set to enter service with a double-digit reduction in carbon emissions. Cargolux of Luxembourg is the freighter’s launch customer.

Meanwhile, ASTM International, the global standards body that oversees jet fuel specification in North America, is about to publish new rules allowing the use of biofuels on all commercial flights.

“This historic flight is a boost to aviation’s efforts to reduce carbon emissions and improve efficiency in all phases of our industry,” said 747-8 Vice President and General Manager Elizabeth Lund. “And the 747-8 Freighter fits in well with these efforts by bringing huge improvements in fuel efficiency, lower carbon emissions and less noise.”

Camelina, the plant source used to create the biofuel, was grown in Montana and processed by Honeywell’s UOP. Boeing does not need to make any changes to the airplane, its engines or operating procedures to accommodate the biofuel.

Before the historic flight, a sample of the biofuel is being taken to the Boeing lab for testing, though the results won’t be a surprise. Boeing researchers have tested similar biofuel blends for other test flights.

“The biofuel-jet fuel mixtures that have flown have performed very well,” said Boeing researcher Jean Ray. “In fact, it’s slightly better from a performance standpoint then the average jet fuel.”