Emirates tests flight powered by sustainable aviation fuel

Sustainable Aviation
Emirates conducts successful flight tests using sustainable aviation fuel. (Image Credit: Emirates)

Emirates successfully flew a Boeing 777 on a test flight with one of its two engines entirely powered by sustainable aviation fuel. This was described as a significant initiative as the airline industry is trying to reduce its carbon footprint amid the global climate crisis.

Emirates conducted the demonstration on a Boeing 777-300ER flight, powering one of its engines with 100% Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF). Flight 2646 flew for just under an hour over the coastline of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), after taking off from Dubai International Airport and heading out into the Persian Gulf before circling to land.

“This flight is a milestone moment for Emirates and a positive step for our industry as we work collectively to address one of our biggest challenges – reducing our carbon footprint. Emirates is the first passenger airline in the world to operate a Boeing 777 powering a GE engine with 100% SAF,” Adel Al Redha, Chief Operating Officer of Emirates Airline said.

Emirates tests flight powered by sustainable aviation fuel
Emirates tests Boeing 777 flight powered by sustainable aviation fuel with a mission to reduce carbon emissions and become environmentally friendly. (Image Credit: Emirates)

UAE’s Emirates Airlines was voted third among the world’s best airlines in 2022 by airline-ranking company Skytrax.

Why? Air travels are energy-intensive and contribute an estimated 2.4% to global carbon emission. This number may not seem a big deal but if aviation was a country, it would be the world’s sixth-biggest emitter after China, the US, India, Russia, and Japan, says climate scientist Milan Klöwer. Aircraft emissions, released high in the atmosphere, emit around 100 times more carbon dioxide per hour than a shared bus or train ride.

How sustainable jet fuel is developed?

Emirates said that the test flight demonstrates the compatibility of the specially blended SAF as a safe and reliable fuel source, paving the way for standardization and future approval of 100% drop-in SAF as a replacement for jet fuel. “Sustainable fuel will play a critical role in the aviation industry’s commitment to be net zero by 2050, requiring strong industry collaboration,” said Omar Arekat, Vice President, Commercial Sales and Marketing, Middle East at Boeing which partnered with Emirates on these tests.

Emirates partnered with GE Aerospace, Boeing, Honeywell, Neste and Virent to procure and develop a blend of sustainable air fuel. After multiple lab tests and rigorous trials, the experts arrived at a blending ratio that mirrored the qualities of jet fuel.

Detailing the process, the Emirates statement said that “18 tonnes of SAF were blended, comprised of HEFA-SPK provided by Neste (hydro processed esters and fatty acids and synthetic paraffinic kerosene) and HDO-SAK from Virent (hydro deoxygenated synthetic aromatic kerosene).”

Virent, the U.S.-based company and the world’s first commercial SAF producer, helped power an Emirates Airline demonstration flight using its plant-based synthesized aromatic kerosene needed for sustainable jet fuel. Virent uses sugar from corn, beets, and sugarcane to make synthetic aromatics needed for jet fuel. “Virent’s technology converts widely available, plant-based sugars into the compounds that make it possible to fuel a jet engine without the need to blend SAF with traditional jet fuel,” said Dave Kettner, President and General Counsel of Virent.

In December 2021, United Airlines was the first commercial flight to use 100% drop-in sustainable aviation fuel by Virent for one of the aircraft’s two engines. United partnered with other companies including Virent for the game-changing flight. Virent’s technology was also tested by Gulfstream in December 2022.

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