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Tue, Feb 12, 2008

Project Aims For RTW Flight Using Biofuels

LearJet May Fly By End Of 2008

Sir Richard Branson plans to fly a Boeing 747 from London to Amsterdam on a biofuel mix derived from soybeans or algae, sometime later this month. But a US pilot and entrepreneur has set his sights on a much bigger achievement.

Douglas Rodante and his team from the Green Flight project plan to fly a Bombardier business jet around the world on used cooking oil, as soon as the end of this year.

"It's a personal goal of mine to implement biofuels into mainstream aviation and mainstream transportation," Rodante told The Canadian Press in a recent interview. "I think it's necessary that we do this first and foremost for environmental reasons."

Rodante and his chief pilot, Carol Sugars -- with consulting help from Bill Lear, Jr., of LearJet fame -- want to fly with used Canola oil, like you'd use to cook french fries. They've already made it work, in a Czech Aero L-29 jet trainer over the Nevada desert last year... but using the fuel for the round-the-world flight poses added challenges.

For one thing, the Lear cruises at 45,000 feet, where temperatures can be expected to drop to -55 degrees Fahrenheit or colder. Fuel made from animal fats turns to a thick jelly which won't burn at those temperatures. The city of Portland, OR found that out in embarassing fashion early this winter, when its biodiesel-fueled snowplow trucks stalled and blocked intersections the first time they were brought out on a cold day.

Also, biofuel is still a fairly new concept, so it's hard to find throughout the world, and costs as much as three times as much as petroleum-based Jet-A fuel. Finally, the FAA and other regulators have yet to satisfy safety concerns.

"The FAA is as conservative as they can be," Rodante said. "They're gonna be as careful as they can possibly be, and that's fine with us because we're keen on safety, too."

But Rodante and Green Flight are attacking the problems methodically. Satisfying the FAA will just take time, and more test flights in the L-29. Keeping the fuel in a combustible form will be solved either with heated tanks, or by using a biofuel-kerosene mix. To meet to multi-million-dollar cost of the trip, sponsors will be enlisted.

Rodante, a television producer who started flying in the 1990s, says it's important to advance biofuel technology, since it could reduce greenhouse gas emissions 50 to 80 per cent compared to petroleum-based jet fuel. He promises he'll return with footage documenting the flight, and create a movie for the rest of us.



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