skip to content

Virgin Trumpets First Commercial Biofuel Flight

Virgin Trumpets First Commercial Biofuel Flight

"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."
-Doug Parr, chief scientist at Greenpeace

February 25, 2008 —

Virgin Airlines showcased the first commercial biofuel flight on Sunday, sending a Boeing 747 from London to Amsterdam on a mix of standard jet fuel and palm and nut derived oils. The plane contained no passengers and Virgin doesn't have any immediate plans to integrate biofuel into its business, but CEO Richard Branson said the pioneering flight would encourage "those of us who are serious about reducing our carbon emissions to go on developing the fuels of the future."

Reactions to the test have been decidedly mixed. Branson, who has developed a reputation for using publicity stunts to raise his own celebrity and the profile of his Virgin empire, received heavy criticism for what many environmentalists see as an flashy and elaborate greenwash. Only 20 percent of the fuel used to power the flight was biofuel, and the mix of coconut and babassu oil is commercially unviable, even if Virgin's assertions that it was produced sustainably are correct. Many have pointed out that biofuels aren't always even better for the environment than fossil fuels, especially when you factor in the carbon cost of processing and transporting the fuel.

But while there may be little value to this test flight outside of the public relations realm, Virgin insists that it's committed to finding a profitable and sustainable biofuel that can reduce its carbon emissions. One possible fuel that's being explored is algae, which is cheap to grow and doesn't compete for land with food production.

Comment on this article:

Under the minimum

Submitted by Anonymous on March 1, 2010 - 11:42.

Under the minimum sustainability standard set by the European Commission, biofuel should reduce emissions by at least 35 per cent compared with fossil fuel, but the results of a study reported in The Times newspaper today reveal that palm oil increases emissions by 31 per cent because of indirect land use change (ILUC). ILUC results in a release of carbon when forest and grassland is turned into biofuel crop plantations. Other commonly-used biofuel crops such as rape seed and soy also fail to meet the standard.

The Renewable Transport

Submitted by Anonymous on March 1, 2010 - 11:48.

The Renewable Transport Fuels Obligation requires that by 2020 the amount of biofuel added to diesel be increased to 13 per cent, but once ILUC is taken into account the entire EU biofuel policy is questionable. The EU spends £3billion each year on subsidising biofuel production.

A spokesperson for the Environmental Transport Association (ETA) said: “The European Commission cannot simply gloss over the effect of ILUC – if biofuel is to be used it must be environmentally robust.”

Under the standard, each

Submitted by Anonymous on March 1, 2010 - 12:01.

Under the standard, each litre of biofuel should reduce emissions by at least 35 per cent compared with burning a litre of fossil fuel. Yet the study shows that palm oil increases emissions by 31 per cent because of the carbon released when forest and grassland is turned into plantations.

Clearing rainforest for biofuel plantations releases carbon stored in trees and soil. It takes 840 years for palm oil plantation to soak up carbon emitted when the rainforest replaced was burnt.

Buy It

Don't Buy It