Virgin Takes to the Skies with Palm Oil

February 27, 2008 by  
Filed under Features

Even though Virgin Atlantic has become the first commercial airline to successfully fly a commercial jet that was partially powered by a biofuel mixture of babassu and coconut oil, much debate has been sparked by this spectacular endeavor. Sir Richard Branson, who is the President of the airline, told the press that the flight was a small step towards developing new fuels that could hopefully assist in reducing the carbon emissions that are released into the air by the aviation industry.

Completing an uneventful flight from Heathrow Airport in London, to the Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam, the Virgin Atlantic Boeing 747 reached an altitude of twenty five thousand feet without experiencing any problems. What makes the flight such an amazing feat, is the fact that the engine, running on the biofuel, was not modified and, in most cases, biodiesel tends to form gel at certain temperatures, which was not the case in this flight.

Other aviation industry leaders around the world have also confirmed that biofuel test flights will be carried out to record the affectability and success of other types of fuel. For instance, in Brazil, many crop dusting planes fly solely on ethanol, but this form of fuel is not compatible for jet aircraft. Options such as producing oils from algae are also being explored, and the visions and ideas for environmentally friendlier fuels seems to be limitless.

However, studies have shown that biofuels could cause more damage than cure to the environment, in the long run. When looking at the production of biofuels realistically, the use of crops to fulfill the demand of only one airline will affect the price of food, and the large areas of agricultural land needed to grow the crops will most likely lead to devastating deforestation and the depletion of arable lands. If looking at the Virgin Atlantic aircraft fleet alone, half of the arable land in the entire United Kingdom will have to be used for creating fuel exclusively for this airline.

And with the ever increasing demand in airline travel, it is hard to imagine that biofuels will be able to keep up to the rising requirements. But, biofuels and flights which are undertaken by airlines, such as Virgin, raise awareness to the cause of climate change and encourage the development of “greener” fuels. The answers might not be forthcoming immediately, but it is always the visions and small steps taken by those who are prepared to take a risk, that pave the way for the future of the planet and the aviation industry.

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