Atlantic To Test Biofuel in Flight
Atlantic said Monday that it would conduct a demonstration flight
next month of one of its Boeing 747 jets using biofuel - the
first airborne test of a renewable fuel by a commercial jet.
The airline, founded by the British billionaire Richard Branson,
said a 747-400 plane would make the journey lasting one hour and
20 minutes from London Heathrow Airport to Amsterdam in late February
using 20 percent biofuel and 80 percent conventional jet fuel.
The test, without passengers, is part of a joint research project
announced by Virgin, Boeing and the aircraft engine maker, GE Aviation.
The airline declined to identify the source of the biofuel, though
Paul Charles, a Virgin spokesman, said the carrier had rejected
fuels derived from crops like palm oil because of the huge land
area that would need to be devoted to cultivation for fuel production.
"It will be a very sustainable fuel source," Charles
said, adding that its production would not compete with food or
fresh water resources.
Engineers at Boeing and its European rival, Airbus, estimate that
supplying all the airliners in the world with pure soybean-based
biofuel would require planting an area the size of Europe. Biofuel
researchers have also identified certain varieties of algae as
a possible feedstock, noting that they have a much higher energy
content than oilseeds and would therefore be far less demanding
on the environment.
Boeing estimates that supplying the aviation industry with algae-based
fuel would require just 35 square kilometers of ponds and that
the algae could even be cultivated in salt water.
GE Aviation said the test plane would be configured with one of
its CF6 engines, which would not require any modifications to burn
biofuel. The new fuel would also have no effect on the engine's
performance or range, the company said. Boeing says its 747-400s
are capable of flying 7,260 nautical miles, or 13,450 kilometers.
"This is meant to be a drop-in solution," said Deborah
Case, a GE Aviation spokeswoman. "That is one of the requirements
of the project."
Branson's critics have sometimes accused him of hypocrisy because
of the role that Virgin Atlantic and other airlines play in contributing
to carbon dioxide emissions.
But since 2006, Virgin Group says, it has earmarked all of the
profits from its airline and rail businesses to financing research
and development of alternative fuels.
Branson has also joined forces with Al Gore, the Nobel laureate
and former U.S. vice president, to finance a $25 million prize
for finding an effective way of removing greenhouse gases from