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Virgin expects algae-powered test flight within 12 months

Having successfully completed its first part-biofuel powered flight late last month, Virgin is hoping a trial can be performed using algae as a biofuel source within 12 months.

On 24 February a Virgin Atlantic General Electric CF6-powered Boeing 747-400 performed a biofuel test flight. One of the aircraft’s engines was powered by a 20% mix of a biofuel, composed of babassu oil and coconut oil, without any modification to the aircraft or engine.

Speaking during a media briefing in New York, Virgin Atlantic Airways president Sir Richard Branson said the initial test data from the trial is extremely good.

“We did tests on the ground before we did the [flight] test last week and on the ground we were showing that quite comfortably we could have 40% biofuel with current engines without any modifications whatsoever. Flying a 747 we weren’t going to push it that far until we had the data from 20%.”

The trial demonstrated that biofuels can be used with existing technology, says Branson, and therefore once a sustainable source has been identified it could rapidly come to market.

Virgin’s fuel company is taking a lead on algae biofuel technology and Branson says it is willing to work with any company that emerges as a leader in the field.

He adds: “Virgin will now move forward rapidly to try to produce algae. We believe that algae will most likely be the best fuel of the future and will have no effect on the food chain whatsoever.

“We are talking to a lot of sewage plants about building algae-making plants above the sewage plants and actually taking the CO2 that comes off those sewage plants and turning that into algae.

“Later this year - either on a Virgin aircraft or another airline – algae will be tested and we are very confident it will work. Then the challenge is to make as much quantity of it as we possibly can.”

Virgin has come under fire with some critics labelling the biofuel demonstration as a publicity stunt. Branson says: “If any of these environmental organisations have a better idea, I promise you we will be the first to welcome it.”

Source:'s sister premium news site Air Transport Intelligence news

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