UK-based Virgin Atlantic on Sunday became the world’s first airline to run an aircraft on bio-fuel. The airline flew one of its Boeing 747 jets on bio-fuel from London’s Heathrow to Amsterdam, using the renewable fuel for the first time, together with partners such as Boeing, GE Aviation and Imperium Renewables.
The fuel is composed of babassu oil and coconut oil, the airline said yesterday in London. The aircraft had one engine powered by bio-fuel derived from crops in an independent fuel tank, providing 20 per cent of the total engine’s power, while the remaining three engines used conventional fuel.
“Tests had shown it was possible to fly with a 40 per cent blend,” said Virgin Atlantic’s founder and president, Sir Richard Branson.
“We are exploring the idea of using next-generation oils such as one extracted from algae to run our aircraft in the future. It will be wonderful if algae-based fuel will be cheaper than the fuel that is, let’s say, dug up in Saudi Arabia. And it is more likely than not it will be. It will be more cost-effective,” Sir Richard told Emirates Business.
The initiative could help reduce ticket cost for passengers. “We have appealed to the UK Government to look into the possibility of getting rid of the green taxes that passengers bear. Using bio-fuel will help reduce carbon emissions by at least 50 per cent over a few years’ time and so it should help us cut down on passengers’ ticket costs, as well," he said.
“The clean fuel will help us get rid of the taxes that the governments are imposing on airlines. And hopefully the cost of airline travel across the world will decrease and not increase in future years. And the reductions will be passed on to the passengers.
“The day marks a vital breakthrough for the whole airline industry. The babassu nuts and coconuts picked up were harvested from existing, mature plantations in Amazon rainforests. No modifications were made to either the aircraft or its engines to enable the flight to take place.
“It is not necessarily going to be the silver bullet for the long-term future but it will prove a fuel like this can fly at 30,000 feet,” said Sir Richard, referring to the challenges faced while using bio-fuels that freeze above 15,000 feet.
The results of yesterday’s bio-fuel flight will be analysed by Virgin Atlantic, Boeing, GE Aviation and Imperium Renewables and used for research and development of next-generation bio-fuels, which can help reduce carbon emissions.
Boeing said it will use the findings from this flight in another demonstration flight later this year for Air New Zealand.
Sir Richard said he has pledged to spend the profit from the airline over the next 10 years on fighting global warming. He also reportedly created Virgin Fuels, which is investing $400 million (Dh1,469m) over three years in renewable energy initiatives, as part of the pledge.
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