Posted by: Tim Lincoln | October 14, 2009

World’s First Commercial Flight Powered by Natural Gas

Qatar Airways flew the world’s first commercial flight using a “50-50 blend of synthetic Gas to Liquids (GTL) kerosene and conventional oil-based kerosene fuel.” Airlines and manufacturers have conducted numerous tests  in the past, but this is the first actual commercial flight powered solely by a blend of conventional and alternative fuels.

The State of Qatar is apparently positioning itself to become the primary producer of what will be known as GTL Jet Fuel. The big question however, is whether Qatar can produce enough of the GTL Jet Fuel to make it practical. Expected output of one million tonnes per year sounds like a lot, but let’s put that into perspective.

Assuming the fuel is used in a standard 50-50 blend as it has been approved, that means the complete yearly output of GTL Jet Fuel would be able to fill up a Boeing 747 11,375 times. Boeing has delivered a little over 600 Boeing 747-400s. It is difficult to tell exactly how many are still in operational use at this exact moment, but let’s assume 300. There are most likely more than that. Assuming 300 747-400s in active use, that means each one can be filled up 37 times a year with GTL Jet Fuel.

Granted, it isn’t often a 747-400 will take on a full load of fuel for a flight, but the average 747-400 makes a great deal more than 37 flights in a year. And that is only one type of aircraft. We are not including the thousands of other Airbus, Boeing, Bombardier, and Embraer aircraft that fly every day. Not to mention all the business and military aircraft.

If Qatar wants to use GTL Jet Fuel to make a serious impact on current jet fuel usage, they are going to have to produce a lot more than 1 million tonnes per year.

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