Biofuelled Virgin Boeing 747 takes to the skies on pioneering first flight
Sun 24 Feb 2008 – A Virgin Atlantic four-engined B747 today flew from London Heathrow to Amsterdam Schiphol with one engine filled with a biofuel blend composed of babassu oil and coconut oil. The event, covered by the world’s media, was the first inflight use of biofuel.
The Number 4 engine was filled with an 80/20 blend of standard Jet-A fuel and the extracts from coconuts and babassu nuts harvested from existing mature plantations, so-called second generation biofuels. No modifications were made either to the aircraft or the GE Aviation CF6 engines.
Virgin’s President, Sir Richard Branson, described the flight as “a breakthrough for the whole airlines industry” and said it was “foolish to believe we can continue to rely on fossil fuels”.
The 500 gallons of biofuel used in the flight was supplied by US company Imperium Renewables. The babassu tree is native to Brazil and its fruit is used in products such as drugs and cosmetics, and its leaves are used to make roofs and paper. However, Imperium’s President and CEO, John Plaza, said this biomass was likely to be superseded by algae-based fuels, which are the most likely to win through, with the jatropha plant also being used in testing.
The industry is being cautious in making claims regarding the amount of carbon emissions that can be reduced through the use biofuels until more testing has been carried out but Boeing believes they can reduce emissions by 50% by 2050 “or even sooner”.
Some environmentalists have condemned the flight as a “publicity stunt” but the partners in the project believe they have made an important technology breakthrough.