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Mon, Feb 25, 2008

Boeing, Virgin Atlantic Complete Biomass-Fueled 747 Flight

Tout Coconut-Derived Fuel As Sustainable Energy Source

On Sunday, Boeing, Virgin Atlantic and GE Aviation conducted what those companies called the first commercial aviation flight using a sustainable fuel from biomass, mixed with traditional kerosene-based jet fuel.

The Virgin Atlantic 747-400 -- registration GV-WOW, operating as Flt. VS811P -- flew using a biofuel blend composed of babassu oil and coconut oil provided by Seattle-based Imperium Renewables. Both oils are economically and socially sustainable, according to the companies, and can be found in everyday cosmetic products including lip balm and shaving cream.

In addition, the babassu nuts and coconuts were harvested from existing, mature plantations. No modifications were made to either the aircraft or its engines to enable the flight to take place.

"Today marks a biofuel breakthrough for the whole airline industry," said Sir Richard Branson, president of Virgin Atlantic. "Virgin Atlantic and its partners have proved that you can find an alternative to traditional jet fuel and fly a plane on biofuel. This pioneering flight will enable 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."

Babassu oil comes from the nuts of the babassu tree, which is native to Brazil. In addition to its cosmetic uses, its leaves are used to make roofs and paper, which in turn is used to create folders, bags and soap boxes. Coconut oil is used for a variety of applications including oil for biodiesel used in ground transportation. Most coconut plantations are mature and don't contribute to deforestation, while coconut farming is also highly carbon-neutral, according to Boeing.

"Today's flight is a continuation of a journey we embarked on last year with Sir Richard Branson and Virgin Atlantic to identify more sustainable forms of fuel for the aviation industry," said Marlin Dailey, vice president of Sales, Europe, Russia and Central Asia, Boeing Commercial Airplanes. "Change begins with a vision. Following that, innovation and technologies are essential to proving the feasibility of renewable, alternative fuel sources for an environmentally progressive future of aviation."

The biofuel-powered Boeing/Virgin/GE flight was also significantly different from the flight earlier this month by an Airbus A380. That aircraft was powered by a synthetic liquid fuel processed from natural gas on its three-hour flight from Filton, England to Toulouse, France.

"The partnership between Virgin Atlantic, Boeing, GE and Imperium Renewables has advanced our understanding of biofuels for aviation applications," said GE Aviation Manager of Advanced Combustion Engineering Dr. Tim Held. "Prior to this historic flight, the engine ground testing conducted by GE and CFM International required no hardware modifications to the engine, and the fuels performed as expected."

"A successful flight will not only validate the use of biofuels in aviation, but also provide a glimpse into the future of all fuels," said Imperium Renewables President and CEO John Plaza prior to the flight. "Today's biojet fuel offers higher-quality standards and a more sustainable fuel than traditional jet fuel. Additionally, it illustrates the potential for second-generation biojet fuel to be even more viable in the coming years."

The results of the biofuel flight will be analyzed by the collective team and used for research and development of next-generation biofuels that can help to further reduce carbon emissions. Boeing will use findings from this flight as a baseline for conducting another biofuel flight later this year with Air New Zealand.

FMI: www.boeing.com, www.virginatlantic.com, www.geae.com

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