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Airplanes to run on flower power

“Flower power” may soon be used to fuel airplanes and other commercial aircraft. No, I’m not referring to the slogan of non-violence used by the hippies or Flower Children of the late ’60s.

Instead, I’m talking about the real flower of a plant that has oil-producing seeds. These seeds may soon end our dependence on expensive fossil fuels.

At least four airlines have tested this eco-friendly alternative and the results have been impressive.

The biofuel blend made from Jatropha flowers and algae is not only cleaner but more efficient.

The airline industry hopes this development will lessen its reliance on expensive petroleum products and reduce the problem of pollution caused by carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions.

CO2 or carbonic acid gas is a colorless and odorless gas formed during respiration, combustion, and organic decomposition. It is found in the atmosphere and is formed when any fuel containing carbon is burned. It is used in refrigeration, carbonated beverages, fire extinguishers and aerosols.

The first airline to test the new alternative to CO2 was Britain’s Virgin Atlantic Airways. Its historic test flight was made in February last year.

Continental Airlines and Air New Zealand followed suit with equally encouraging results. The latter completed a two-hour flight from Auckland with its 747 jumbo jet. Because of this, Air New Zealand intends to use the new fuel for 10 percent of its needs by 2013.

The latest test flight using the new biofuel was made by Japan Airlines (JAL) last January. Its Boeing 747-300 plane finished an hour-long flight powered by 50 percent traditional fuel and the other half by biofuel.

“The test flights are supported by Boeing and the four airlines have cooperated with different aircraft engine manufacturers to compare data on biofuels made from different materials and various mixes of biofuel and conventional fuel,” reported the Daily Mail.

Jatropha is a plant that is native to Central America and is found in many tropical countries. It originated in the Caribbean and is highly resistant to drought and pests.

At present, oil from the Jatropha curcas seeds is used in biodiesel production in the Philippines and Brazil. The oil from this species is also used to make candles and soap.

“Seed yields under cultivation can range from 1,500 to 2,000 kilograms per hectare, corresponding to extractable oil yields of 540 to 680 liters per hectare (58 to 73 U.S. gallons per acre). Time Magazine recently cited the potential for as much as 1,600 gallons of diesel fuel per acre per year,” revealed the editors of Wikipedia.

“From a long-term perspective, we need to search for a fuel that can replace petroleum. Biofuel is especially attractive because CO2 emissions from biofuel can be seen as zero,” concluded Yasunori Abe, the 52-year-old chief of JAL’s global environment division.

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