1st Airbus A380 takes off on flight powered by used cooking oil

Mar 30, 2022

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An old Airbus A380 has a green new mission.

The first A380 ever produced took off last week on a flight powered by 100% sustainable aviation fuel, or SAF.

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A380 prototype flies through the air.
A380 prototype. (Photo by A. Doumenjou/Master Films/Airbus)

SAF is a type of biofuel that relies heavily on organic materials. The aviation industry is banking heavily on this type of fuel, hoping it can lessen the industry’s reliance on traditional fossil fuels and allow for fewer carbon emissions.

For the A380’s flight, which departed Blagnac Airport (TLS) in Toulouse, France, 27 metric tons of unblended SAF were provided by Total Energies. The SAF provided primarily consisted of used cooking oil and other waste fats, according to Airbus, and was free of aromatics and sulfur. This makes SAF a cleaner-burning fuel, which is why it’s a key part of the aviation industry’s longer-term ambitions to reduce carbon emissions.

For this flight, one of the A380’s four Rolls-Royce Trent 900 engines was powered entirely by SAF.

The A380 is Airbus’ latest foray into 100% SAF. Two other Airbus aircraft have undergone similar 100% SAF testing: an A319neo and an A350.

(Image courtesy of Airbus)

All Airbus aircraft are currently certified to fly with a 50-50 blend of SAF and traditional kerosene fuel. Airbus hopes to certify 100% SAF for its line of aircraft by the end of the decade.

The A380 prototype has a much greener mission ahead of it. It will be modified into Airbus’ ZEROe demonstrator, which will see an additional engine installed that will be powered by hydrogen. The program aims to test zero-emission propulsion.

More: Are sustainable aviation fuels the future for commercial air travel?

Across the pond, Boeing has also invested in SAF, purchasing 2 million gallons of the organic fuel last month to power its commercial aircraft operations in Washington state and South Carolina. Initially, this fuel will be a 30-70 blend of SAF, but Boeing hopes to ramp up the share of SAF in the blend to 50% — and ultimately 100%. Like Airbus, Boeing also hopes to certify its fleet for 100% SAF operations by 2030.

Late last year, United Airlines operated a special 737 MAX 8 flight from Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport (ORD) to Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport (DCA) with one engine powered by 100% SAF — one of the most ambitious tests of the fuel yet by an individual airline.

Featured photo by A. Doumenjou/Master Films/Airbus.

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