BILLINGS – A Japanese commercial airliner is scheduled to take a test flight next month using jet fuel derived in part from camelina – an emerging biofuels crop that has received strong backing from Montana officials.
Camelina is a seed-oil crop that at least two Northern Plains companies are pursuing as a potential source of alternative fuels. Gov. Brian Schweitzer and Montana’s U.S. senators, Max Baucus and Jon Tester, have promoted camelina as a way to lessen U.S. reliance on foreign oil.
Camelina companies have been struggling to reach their goal of converting millions of acres of the region’s farmland to production of the crop. Competition with high prices for wheat made attracting farmers difficult.
Representatives of Bozeman-based Sustainable Oils say they hope the upcoming test flight will show farmers that a market for the crop will exist.
Japan Airlines plans a one-hour flight out of Tokyo on Jan. 30, using a jet fuel blend made from Sustainable Oils camelina, said Scott Johnson, general manager of the company built on a partnership between Targeted Growth of Seattle and Green Earth Fuels of Houston.
“We need to prove that it’s a consistent and good source of renewable fuels for this type of market,” Johnson said. He added that the number of acres devoted to the crop “could be scaled up quickly” to meet demand.
Aircraft manufacturer Boeing also is participating in the test project.
“Until recently it was assumed the only thing we could ever use was petroleum,” said Darin Morgan, head of Boeing’s sustainable fuels program. “Boeing set out to prove that wrong.”