A little over two years ago, China’s Hainan Airlines flew 156 passengers with the help of cooking oil from Shanghai to Beijing. Now, the same carrier, which is already China’s biggest private airline by both market size and fleet size, flew passengers much further on cooking oil-blended aviation fuel.
A Hainan Airlines Boeing 787 carrying 186 passengers and 15 cabin crews took off from Beijing and landed in Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport on Tuesday (Nov. 21), the first time a Chinese airline conducted an international flight with the fuel.
The blend—15% waste cooking fuel and the rest from normal jet fuel—came from Zhennan Refining and Chemical, an oil manufacturer based in eastern China, according to state news outlet China Daily. The manufacturer is a subsidiary of state-owned oil giant China Petrochemical (also known as Sinopec). A senior engineer with Zhennan told state news agency Xinhua that the company could collect and process 100,000 metric tons of waste cooking oil from restaurants every year.
Cooking oil, a biofuel since it’s made from oilseeds, is a cleaner burning power source compared with petroleum diesel, a traditional jet fuel. Using biofuels can cut an airline’s carbon emissions up to 80% compared to using traditional diesel. Biofuels can also be produced from virgin vegetable oil, but in this case Zhennan was using restaurant waste. Re-using waste cooking oil as biofuel could divert waste from landfills and sewer pipes—where restaurants and cafes sometimes dump it.
Sun Jianfeng, president of Hainan Airlines, who was also captain of the nearly 13-hour flight, said the plane ran smoothly and that the overall performance was stable.
Several airlines already operate commercial flights using biofuels or plan to do so soon. United has been using biofuel for regularly scheduled commercial flights since last year. In September last year, KLM Royal Dutch Airlines, the flagship carrier of the Netherlands, also announced that it would operate biofuel flights out of Los Angeles. In January, Cathay Pacific, the flagship carrier of Hong Kong said it would use biofuels on flights to the US starting 2019.