CORRECTED - CORRECTED-Poison shrub oil powers New Zealand airline flight

Thu Jan 1, 2009 2:47am GMT

(Corrects 2nd paragraph to show flight was on Dec. 30, not 31)

SYDNEY Jan 1 (Reuters) - Oil from the seeds of a poisonous shrub helped power a New Zealand airliner in a test flight, at a time when airlines hit by high oil prices and pressured over the impact of planes on the environment seek greener fuels.

An Air New Zealand Boeing 747 flew for two hours on Dec. 30 with one of its four engines powered by a 50-50 mixture of jet fuel and jatropha oil, the airline said in a statement.

Jatropha is a plant that grows up to three metres and produces inedible fruits, which contain the oil. It is grown on arid and marginal land in India, parts of Africa and other countries, and has been touted for mass production for biofuels because it does not compete for resources with food crops.

Air New Zealand, which hopes to use one million barrels of biofuel a year, or about 10 percent of its fuel consumption, by 2013, said the flight was the world's first commercial aviation test flight powered by jatropha.

"It is Air New Zealands long-term goal to become the worlds most environmentally sustainable airline and we have today made further significant progress towards this," Chief Executive Rob Fyfe said in the statement.

The fuel mixture performed well in a range of tests, the airline said.

Other experts have warned that jatropha does not offer an easy answer to biofuels problems because it is toxic and yields are unreliable. It is also a labour-intensive crop as each fruit ripens at a different time and needs to be harvested separately.

British-based Virgin Atlantic used a bio-jet fuel blend made from babassu and coconut oils in a commercial flight in February. (Reporting by Jonathan Standing, Editing by Dean Yates)

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