Biofuel flight 'another Branson stunt'

Biofuel flight 'another Branson stunt' - 26th February 2008
(Credit: The Daily Telegraph)

The world's first commercial aircraft to be powered partly by biofuel has flown into controversy as environmental campaigners denounced the inaugural flight as a publicity stunt.

The passengerless Virgin Atlantic Boeing 747 yesterday flew from London to Amsterdam, with one of the four main tanks carrying 80 per cent standard jet fuel and a 20 per cent mix of coconut and babassu oil.

Virgin Atlantic president Sir Richard Branson said the flight was a "historic" step to using biofuels on commercial flights with the aim of reducing carbon emissions.

But he said commercial biofuel flights, still some years away, were likely to use feedstocks like algae rather than the mix used.

The fuel was developed in partnership with Boeing, engine maker General Electric and Imperium Renewables.

Environmental groups say biofuel crops are raising food costs in developing countries, damaging the environment and displacing indigenous local populations.

The Virgin boss said his fuel was "completely environmentally and socially sustainable", with the coconut oil sourced in the Philippines, one of the world's top three producers, and the babassu oil taken mostly from a wild palm found in Brazil.

He said the process did not compete with food supplies or cause deforestation, and the oils were also in everyday cosmetic products like lip balm and shaving cream.

Sir Richard said no modifications were needed for the aircraft or engines, making such fuels easy to introduce, and argued the UK Government should ease passenger taxes for airlines which cut emissions, thus encouraging airlines to compete in taking environmental initiatives.

The Government has so far left aviation, which produces about 3 per cent of all EU carbon dioxide emissions, out of its impending climate change bill, which aims to cut CO2 output at least 60 per cent by 2050.

Greenpeace chief scientist Doug Parr said: "This is a company hell-bent on unrestrained airport expansion, starting with a third runway at Heathrow which would almost double the number of flights from one of the world's biggest airports.

"Biofuels can often cause more damage to the environment than fossil fuels, and Virgin is using this flight to divert attention from an irresponsible, business-as-usual attitude to climate change."

He said although potential biofuel from algae should to be looked at, the so-called "first generation" biofuels based on existing food crops were not a necessary first step.

Latest Comment:

Greg Tingle of Bondi Beach, Sydney writes:

Richard Branson and Virgin Enterprises Limited are making an effort, and that's why I prefer to do business with Virgin when possible. Sure, he's also a showman and self promoter, but there's a ton more substance than show and hype. Richard Branson will continue to make history as a switched on businessman, environmentalist and humanitarian, and something else... not all of his good deeds go reported, and I'm close enough to know this. Greg Tingle



Richard Branson

Virgin Atlantic


Green Fuels

Disclaimer: This article was written by The Daily Telegraph and the comment by Greg Tingle was published on The Daily Telegraph website. Greg Tingle has done business with Virgin, some of their partners such as Webjet, in addition to enjoying business relationships with some of their competitors such as Qantas.