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First biofuel powered plane crosses the Channel

Latest update : 2008-02-25

The world's first commercial biofuel-powered plane has successfully linked London to Amsterdam, in what Virgin Atlantic boss Richard Branson described as "history in the making". (Story by B.Harris)

The first flight by a commercial airline to be partly powered by biofuels and billed as heralding a eco-friendlier and cheaper era of airline travel took place on Sunday, Virgin Atlantic said.

A Virgin Boeing 747 jumbo jet, carrying biofuels mixed with kerosene, traditional jet fuel, made the short trip between London and Amsterdam with no passengers on board.

Virgin Atlantic chief Richard Branson described the flight as "history in the making".

The plane used a biofuel blend of babassu oil -- extracted from nuts of the babassu tree -- and coconut oil. Both products are more commonly found in cosmetics like lip balm and shaving cream.

Branson hailed the demonstration flight as a breakthrough for the airline industry and proof that there were viable alternatives to traditional jet fuel.

The flight enabled "those of us who are serious about reducing our carbon emissions to go on developing the fuels of the future, fuels which will power our aircraft in the years ahead through sustainable next-generation oils, such as algae", Branson said in a statement.

Environmentalists argued that biofuels were in fact a poor alternative, pointing out that clearing raw land to produce them actually contributes to global warming by emitting large amounts of greenhouse gases.

Greenpeace chief scientist Doug Parr hit out at Virgin's test flight, calling it a "high altitude greenwash".

"The scientific evidence is now clear -- using the finite amount of land we have to grow biofuels is bad for the world's poor, bad for biodiversity and bad for the climate," he said Sunday.

Carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from new croplands carved into rainforests, savannas, wetlands or grasslands would easily surpass the overall amount of CO2 emissions reduced through the use of biofuels, according to a report in the February 8 edition of Science.

Airlines meanwhile also see biofuels as cheaper alternatives to kerosene, whose price is soaring as oil futures strike record highs above 101 dollars a barrel.

Date created : 2008-02-24