After decades of waiting, commercial airlines have been given the go-ahead to use fuel made from algae, wood chips, and other plants with obscure names. Test flights in recent years by Continental, Japan Airlines, and Virgin Atlantic have shown that planes can fly on everything from coconut oil to jatropha, a plant that grows in the tropics.
On July 1, ASTM International, an American organization that sets worldwide technical standards for the airline and other industries, gave approval for carriers to mix fuel made from organic waste and nonfood plants with kerosene, which is conventionally used to power planes. “A lot of companies have been waiting for the certification,” says Mark Rumizen, fuel specialist at the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration. “It’s going to drive a lot of investment.”