Virgin Atlantic's Richard Branson announces two new environmental partnerships
Virgin has ordered 43 R-R Trent 1000-powered Boeing 787 Dreamliners (photo: Rolls-Royce)
Fri 7 Mar 2008 – Following on from the recent biofuel flight, Virgin Atlantic Airways has announced new environmental partnerships with General Motors (GM) and Rolls-Royce. The agreements cover the use of hydrogen-fuelled vehicles for ground transfer services and fuel saving initiatives connected to engines ordered for the airline’s new fleet of Boeing 787 Dreamliners.
Beginning later this month, Virgin Atlantic will use three zero-petrol, zero-emissions Chevrolet Equinox hydrogen fuel cell vehicles for its complimentary ground transfer service for Upper Class passengers at Los Angeles International Airport. It will form part of a 30-month research programme, called Project Driveway,
by General Motors that is placing more than 100 of these vehicles around the US and other parts of the world, and the partnership with Virgin could be extended to include New York.
“Our mission to be the sustainable airline is clear, both on the ground and in the air,” said Sir RichardBranson, Virgin’s President. “Partnerships such as this show we are pioneering in the aviation industry when it comes to reducing emissions at every stage of our passengers’ journey.” He encouraged governments – particularly in the US and the UK – to build hydrogen filling stations in cities. It was no coincidence, he said, that both Los Angeles and New York each had a forward-thinking mayor and state governor keen to promote the use of alternative fuels.
Apart from its different propulsion system, the Equinox Fuel Cell electric vehicle looks and drives much like a production Chevy Equinox SUV crossover. The fuel cell system fits within the space of the conventional engine compartment. The nickel-metal hydride battery pack, which stores energy from the regenerative braking system to increase operating efficiency and boost acceleration when needed, sits under the floor in the middle of the vehicle. Three compressed hydrogen storage tanks, made of carbon fibre for strength and pressurized to 10,000 pounds per square inch (psi) are located under the rear seats and cargo area. They contain roughly 4.2kg of hydrogen. The fuel cell has a range of around 150 miles (240km) when fully refuelled, which takes between five and eight minutes.
“We see a future within our grasp where cars are powered by hydrogen and electricity, and they are controlled electronically and digitally,” said Dr Larry Burns, GM’s Vice President of Research and Development. He revealed that GM was working on a newer-generation fuel cell power train half the size of that used in the Equinox that would be “even more efficient”.
In another agreement signed this week, Virgin Atlantic placed a $2.6 billion order with Rolls-Royce for Trent 1000 engines to power up to 43 Boeing 787 Dreamliners on order, the first of which the airline hopes to take delivery in 2011. Boeing and Rolls-Royce claim the Dreamliner will burn 30% less fuel than previous generation aircraft. As part of the deal, Rolls-Royce will maintain the engines under a TotalCare services agreement and will aim “to identify further opportunities to reduce aircraft fuel burn through enhanced engine performance.”
Commented Branson: “Our new environmental partnership will also bring major benefits to the aviation industry, enabling us to work together on researching and developing the most efficient engines in the sky, and continuously improving the fuel burn of our fleet of aircraft.”
During the week, Branson told reporters in New York that the initial results from the recent London to Amsterdam biofuel demonstration flight were “extremely good” and that ground tests before the flight showed that a 40% biofuel blended mix would have worked comfortably but the data needed to be analyzed first from the 20% mix actually used.
He said that his Virgin Fuels operation would be “moving rapidly forward” to produce algae, the biomass seen as providing the best long term solution, and the company was talking to a number of sewage plant operators about setting up algae plants above the sewage plants and using CO2 coming off to feed the algae.