Earlier this month, somewhere high above the Mojave Desert, a rocket, powered by a heart-healthy mix of canola and soybean oils, approached the speed of sound and reached an altitude of 20,000 feet—a significant advance for the future of biofuel-fueled flight.
The launch, a test of a biofuel developed by the Energy and Environmental Research Center at the University of North Dakota, far exceeded expectations given its blazing speed. "We demonstrated that this fuel is a flying fuel, and is 100% renewable and burns clean," says Carsten Heide, associate director for the EERC. "It would open up the possibility to run 100% renewable, clean planes. You can see in the picture how clean it burns."
The EERC's fuel is all-natural and mimics all characteristics of petroleum-derived jet fuels, even down to its freezing point (a tricky feat, because if it weren't, the fuel would turn to gel and in-flight objects would literally fall out of the sky).
This is a natural progression in the jet biofuel advances we've been covering, from Continental Airlines' recent biofuel test flight and Virgin Galactic's plans to make space travel environmentally friendly.
Of course, we're still in the test phase. Most importantly, we don't know what type of price tag mass production might carry. The EERC is hoping to build a facility that can produce up to three million gallons per year, but this early in the game, Heide chose not to speculate on cost.