20090107 continental plane 81464148 18
A Continental Airlines carrier - 


Steve Chiotakis: This is a big day for high-flying bio-fuels. Continental Airlines becomes the first U.S. carrier to conduct a biofuel-powered test flight. Can the alternative become a rival to jet fuel? From the Marketplace Sustainability Desk, here's Sam Eaton.

Sam Eaton: Low-carbon biofuels could be the environmental Holy Grail for airlines, whose greenhouse gas emissions are expected to triple by mid-century. But the volatility of oil prices is also driving experimentation with biofuels.

Leah Raney is Contenental's global environmental affairs director:

Leah Raney: We'd like to have a stable fuel supply, and we'd like to have a reliable cost of fuel that we can forecast going forward.

Raney says the biofuels they're testing are derived from algae and jatropha, a tropical shrub that doesn't compete with food crops.

But scaling up biofuels for use on commercial flights could still be a decade away. Continental alone burns about a billion and a half gallons of jet fuel every year. And at that scale, some environmentalists worry that biofuel crops like jatropha, now grown in arid regions, could begin to encroach on prime agricultural land.

In Los Angeles, I'm Sam Eaton for Marketplace.

Follow Sam Eaton at @eatonsam