Commercial airline flies plane on biofuel blend

A Virgin Atlantic jumbo jet has flown from London to Amsterdam using a biofuel blend alongside conventional jet fuel.

One of the four engines drew its fuel from a tank filled with a bio-jet blend comprising 20 per cent babassu oil and coconut oil mixed with 80 per cent standard jet fuel. No modifications were made to the plane or the engine.

Virgin Atlantic is partnering with Boeing, GE Aviation and Imperium Renewables to develop renewable fuel sources for aviation. The aircraft used for the pioneering flight was a Boeing 747 with GE engines.

Preparation for the flight included 28 hours of ground testing in December 2007 of the Imperium fuel on a CFM56 engine at GE's Peebles, Ohio, facility. "During these ground tests, the biofuel performed as we expected, with no negative impact on performance and with the same excellent fuel burn and emission levels," said Dr Tim Held, manager of advanced combustion engineering at GE Aviation. "This successful ground test programme gave us a great opportunity to advance our understanding of jet engines running on these biofuel blends."

John Plaza, president and CEO for Imperium Renewables, commented: "We̵7;re extremely proud to have produced the fuel used or this historic flight. Today̵7;s biojet fuel offers higher-quality standards and a more sustainable fuel than traditional jet fuel. Additionally it illustrates the potential for 'second generation' biojet fuel to be even more viable in the coming years."

However, environmental lobby group Friends of the Earth said biofuels were a distraction in the fight to cut carbon dioxide emissions, and that related carbon savings would be negated by increased airline travel.

Image: The Virgin Atlantic 747 takes off from Heathrow with biofuel in one of its tanks [Reuters/Luke MacGregor]

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