India takes-off with it’s first biofuel test flight

  • SpiceJet conducted its first successful biofuel test flight from Dehradun to New Delhi in India.
  • The fuel used was a blend using 25% biojet fuel, made from the Jatropha crop and 75% air turbine fuel (ATF).
  • While this may be a fix for India’s dangerous air pollution levels, some industry analysts suggest biofuel can hedge against the increasing prices of petroleum.
Monday morning, in north India, a SpiceJet flight took off marking a new chapter in India’s green economy. Travelling from the city Dehradun to the national capital of New Delhi, the budget carrier pulled off India’s first biofuel test flight.

The flight lasted for around 25 minutes with 20 people onboard running on 75% air turbine fuel (ATF) and 25% biojet fuel. Otherwise, the Bombardier Q400 has the capacity to accomodate 78 passengers.


This particular biojet fuel is used making the Jatropha crop, developed by the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research - Indian Institute of Petroleum (CSIR-IIP). It meets the global standards prescribed by Pratt & Whitney and Bombardier for commercial applications.

Importance of biojet fuel

Where airlines, alone, are responsible for 2% of the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions globally, biofuels are an integral part of the solution. Improving engine efficiency and tinkering with the aerodynamics of a plane can help marginally, shifting entirely to renewable jet fuel is the key according to the International Air Transport Association (IATA).

Around the world more than 2,500 commercial flights have already flown using renewable biofuel.

The reason jet biofuels are more efficient than batteries, fuel cells or even liquified hydrogen, is due to the scalability issues. Using the alternatives would require switching up the infrastructure and changing how energy is derived altogether.

Jet biofuels, on the other hand, chemically mimic what petroleum jet fuel can already do. That means it can be used within the existing infrastructure and engine designs.

That being said, since current aviation biofuels only use linear and branched paraffins, the plane has to run on a blend of biofuels and petroleum fuels. While the SpiceJet flight used a 25% blend, Neste fuel at the Oslo Airport uses a 50% blend and AltAir Fuels uses a 30% blend for the American airline carrier, United Airlines.

The global aviation industry has promised to reduce their net carbon emissions by 50% come 2050 in comparison to emissions in 2005.

To be fair, over the past 50 years, the pollution created per passenger has gone down by 75%. A majority of that reduction has happened in the past 15 years as the demand for air travel has boomed.

But there’s a catch


First off, while we know the contribution of aviation to air pollution globally, there are no national studies to ascertain how much air pollution is caused by airlines within the country.

And, while it’s commonly known that the world’s most polluted cities lie in India, the division of accountability between the different sources is yet to be ascertained. The Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology (IITM) is planning on a fix, for the national capital at anyway, since it has the worst air quality in the world.

Which is why the primary reason for employing this solution in India, as cited by airline executives, is due to rising costs of ordinary jet fuel. Between the airline fares dipping and aviation fuel prices rising at an increasing rate, biofuels serve as a lynchpin to bring the cost situation under control.


(Representative image)