In the Air
For heavier-than-air flying vehicles like airplanes, it takes a lot of concentrated energy to get airborne and stay up there for any decent length of time. For most of the powered-flight era, petroleum-based products such as avgas or jet fuel have served as the propellants of choice because of their high energy density. In other words, they pack a lot of punch in a relatively small package.
You know what's next -- yep, algae can be converted to fuel for airplanes, too.
Here are a couple algae aviation milestones for you:
- In November 2011, a United Airlines Boeing 737 flew passengers from Houston to Chicago while burning a blend of jet fuel and algae-based biofuel. The mixture, developed by Solazyme and Honeywell, enabled a record: The first U.S. domestic commercial flight to use the algae-based biofuel.
- High-performance aircraft can run on biofuels, too. The F/A-18 Hornets -- supersonic fighter-bomber jets -- of the Navy's Great Green Fleet mentioned previously, use a 50-50 blend of hydroprocessed renewable fuel (algae and cooking oil) and conventional JP-5 jet fuel.
Airplanes get us where we need to go in a hurry, but there's an expensive environmental trade-off: They're notorious polluters. So greening their fuel by blending it with cleaner-burning algae oil would seem to be a step in the right direction, right?