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Mon, Jan 14, 2008

Report: Virgin Atlantic To Fly Biofuel-Powered 747 In February

First Flight Will Come 10 Months Earlier Than Planned

Virgin Atlantic has given itself the green light to go green, a lot earlier than planned. On Monday, the British airline announced it plans to operate the world's first commercial jet flight powered by biofuel next month.

Reuters reports the Boeing 747 will fly a relatively short (230-mile) hop from London Heathrow to Amsterdam, and won't have passengers onboard. If all goes to plan, the flight will come 10 months earlier than Virgin -- or project partners Boeing and GE Aviation -- had planned.

"This fuel has never been in the air before on a commercial plane, although it's been tested in engines on the ground in altitude conditions," said a Virgin spokesman. "It's a sustainable fuel, so you don't have to knock down forests to get it."

The airliner will operate on a mix of biofuel and jet-A, similar to efforts conducted by the US Air Force. As ANN reported, last August the USAF cleared its fleet of B-52H Stratofortresses to run on a mix of JP-8 and fuel synthesized through the Fischer-Tropsch process, a method that can convert virtually any carbon-based material into synthetic fuel.

There's some question over whether the Virgin flight will operate on a biofuel mix derived from soybeans, or from algae. Both have been studied extensively by Boeing; algae is reportedly over 150 percent more efficient than soybeans. In addition to reducing dependence on oil, biofuels are also said to offer advantages such as reduced carbon emissions.

"The flight will give our engineers and those at Boeing and GE vital learnings for the passenger flights of the future," said Virgin CEO Sir Richard Branson.

It will also give Virgin bragging rights.

FMI: www.boeing.com, www.geaviation.com, www.virgin-atlantic.com

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