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Greener travel? Japan tests pond scum as jet biofuel

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Tokyo – The Boeing 747 belonging to Japan Airlines took off from Tokyo’s busy Haneda Airport Friday and circled over the Pacific Ocean, powered in part by vegetable oils and pond scum.

It was the last of four demonstration flights that have taken place over the past year in four corners of the world, all using four different blends of biofuels, powering four makes of engines.

The purpose of the flights is to determine whether a modern jet liner can safely fly with some of its fuel made of renewable energy. The high cost of fossil fuel and its environmental impact are pushing the airlines to explore alternatives.

Aviation currently contributes about 3 percent of global carbon emissions, but air travel is growing. And there's a climate change factor that paying passengers are taking note of: jet aircraft do not just give off carbon dioxide but nitrous oxide – which some scientists calculate will have at least double the impact of CO2 – and condensation trails, which also may contribute to global warming.

On landing Capt. Keiji Kobayashi said that the performance of the biofueled engine seemed indistinguishable from the other three engines. That echoed reports from the three previous flights and is exactly what promoters of sustainable aviation fuels want to hear.

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