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Virgin Atlantic Conducts First Ever Biofuel Flight

The first flight by a commercial airline to be powered partly by biofuel recently took place as a Virgin Atlantic jumbo jet flew between London Heathrow Airport and Amsterdam using fuel derived from a mixture of Brazilian babassu nuts and coconuts. Virgin’s Boeing 747 had one of its four engines connected to an independent biofuel tank that it said could provide 20% of the engine’s power. The three other engines were capable of powering the plane on conventional fuel had there been a problem.

Virgin founder Richard Branson, said: “Today marks a vital breakthrough for the whole airline industry, however, it is unlikely the nut of the wild growing babassu palm will play a key role as airlines turn to renewable fuel sources to cut the industry’s greenhouse gas emissions.” He explained that fully commercial biofuel flights are likely to use feedstocks such as algae rather than the mix used on the passenger-less flight, as one problem with flying planes using biofuel is that it is more likely to freeze at high altitude. Aviation companies Boeing and GE are still developing the necessary technology, but Virgin believes airlines could routinely be flying on plant power within 10 years.

Airbus has also tested another alternative fuel, a synthetic mix of gas-to-liquid and ran its test using the A380, the world’s largest passenger jet. The three-hour flight from Filton near Bristol to Toulouse in February was part of an ongoing research program.

Continental Airlines, Boeing and GE aviation also announced plans to conduct a biofuel demonstration flight in the first half of 2009 in an effort to identify sustainable fuel solutions for the aviation industry. Continental is the first major United States carrier to announce plans to highlight technological advancements in sustainable biofuels that can help further reduce carbon emissions.

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