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Virgin Atlantic Uses Biojet Fuel Blend in 747 Test Flight; Babassu and Coconut Oil as Feedstocks

Earlier testing by Boeing indicated that biojet fuels blended at 20 percent with Jet-A appear to pass the jet fuel thermal stability (JFTOT) requirement, and is much improved over the results for B100 biodiesel. Click to enlarge.

Virgin Atlantic, in partnership with Boeing, GE Aviation and Imperium Renewables, a leading biodiesel producer based in Seattle, Washington, successfully flight tested a Boeing 747 equipped with GE engines today using a 20% blend of a biojet fuel derived from babassu and coconut oil in one engine. No modifications were made to either the aircraft or its engines to enable the flight to take place.

The flight marked the first in-flight demonstration of a biofuel in a large commercial jet. Earlier in February, Airbus launched its alternative fuel research program with the 3-hour flight of an Airbus 380 between the UK and France fueled by a Gas to Liquids (GTL) blend. (Earlier post.) Boeing, Air New Zealand and Rolls-Royce also plan a biofuel demonstration flight in the second half of 2008 using an Air New Zealand Boeing 747-400 equipped with Rolls-Royce engines. (Earlier post.)

Boeing has been actively exploring second-generation biofuel feedstocks and processes that have the potential to reduce greenhouse gases throughout their entire lifecycle for use in aviation fuel. In September 2006, Brazilian biofuel company Tecbio announced that it was working with NASA and Boeing to develop a bio-kerosene aviation fuel, which Boeing calls biojet fuel. Tecbio first developed the vegetable-oils-based aviation fuel for in 1980. (Earlier post.)

The basic Tecbio process. Click to enlarge.

Tecbio uses a transesterification process to produce the methyl or alkyl esters that constitute both biodiesel and biokerosene (biojet)—biokerosene is constituted of an ester fraction of selected molecular weight. (Tecbio also uses babassu oil as a feedstock.) The fuel used in the Virgin test flight, although produced via transesterification, is not derived from the Tecbio process, according to Boeing.

In preparation for the Virgin Atlantic test flight, Boeing, GE Aviation and Imperium conducted extensive laboratory and static-engine testing on the ground to evaluate the energy and performance properties of the biojet fuel used in the flight. The Virgin Atlantic flight is part of a broader industry-wide initiative to commercialize alternative fuel sources for aviation. Virgin Atlantic will share the results with those also seeking to cut their carbon emissions in the rest of the industry.

The demonstration flight took off from London Heathrow at 11:30 am and arrived in Amsterdam at 1:30 pm local time. During the flight, technical advisors on board took readings and recorded flight data for subsequent analysis by the partners.

We’re extremely proud to have produced the fuel used today for this historic flight. A successful flight will not only validate the use of biofuels in aviation, but also provide a glimpse into the future of all fuels. 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. We’re committed to the aviation community and to innovating new and environmentally-friendly alternative fuels.

—John Plaza, President and CEO for Imperium Renewables

The results of today’s biofuel flight will be analyzed by Virgin Atlantic, Boeing, GE Aviation and Imperium Renewables and used for the research and development of next-generation biofuels that can help reduce carbon emissions. Boeing will use the findings from this flight in the Air New Zealand demonstration flight later this year.

Babassu oil comes from the nuts of the babassu tree, which is native to Brazil. The fruit of the babassu is used in products such as drugs and cosmetics, and 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. Most coconut plantations are mature and do not contribute to deforestation, according to the partners.




The guy who invented the bio-jet fuel, Expedito Parente, now has a large non-profit organisation aimed at getting poor forest communities profit from the biofuel. Their livelihoods are being improved because they now have a ready market for their babassu oil.

Babassu grows in the wild on 18 million hectares. No deforestation involved in extracting this fuel.



Don't be so naive please, if tomorrow the poor forest communities realize they can make money and improve their living with the babassu nuts, they will deforest the rain forest to re-plant babassu only hust like they do in indonesia with palm tree.

Biofuel made from single specie tree or prennial grass or whatever are a dead end option, fr many reasons, destruction of biodiversity, introduction of invasive species, fragility to pest and disease. The future of biofuel are process that can work with all the ligno-cellulose material whatever they come from. ANd for this only thermal conversion is ok, enzyme based process is not ok because it only work on the cellulosic part of the plant and requires energy intense process to explode the fiber through steam or acid based process.

Now, a plantation of mixed coconut tree, palm tree, jatropha and babassu might provide an acceptable bio-diversity as well as opportunities for tropical area as well as income for local population, but it will be a marginal production.


What's sad is that Brazil has to be on the cutting edge of biojet fuel production - not the US. The American oil companies with their billions in profits have local, state and federal politicians by the balls - they will fight to maintain/protect those fossil fuel revenue streams as long as possible (paying off lobbyists & influencing as many politicians as possible) while our national security and American way of life suffers. I'm moving to Canada or Australia as soon as I can. The corn ethanol lobby and subsidies are screwing us over too!


Treehugger, babassu takes several decades to mature. So let's stick to the facts: nobody is going to create plantations. You harvest from wild stands.

But you're right that biofuels could lead to deforestation if current practises spiral out of hand (currently, there is no link between biofuels and deforestation; as both sugarcane does not grow in the Amazon and palm oil production for biofuels has not increased - neither the U.S. nor the EU have imported more palm oil than in 2005).

The question is: does *not* investing in biofuels lead to even more deforestation? The answer is yes. Poverty is the key cause to deforestation in the tropics; biofuels can slow down deforestation by providing funds for biochar based production.

These production systems have the capacity to (1) end slash-and-burn based deforestation once and for all, (2) to save the planet because biochar based biofuels are not merely carbon-neutral, they are carbon-negative and take CO2 out of the atmosphere (and should thus be promoted over renewables like wind and solar, which contribute CO2 to the atmosphere), and (3) end hunger, because biochar based production boosts food production.

Finally, you also know the figures of the IEA and the FAO showing there is enough non-forest land for about 1500EJ worth of bioenergy by 2050 (current world oil consumption: 240EJ).

Simple international rules and certification schemes will ensure that this non-forest land (around 1.5bn hectares) is used. This will also end the false claims that biofuels are contributing to deforestation - a claim for which there is no evidence whatsoever.

There's not much of an alternative to oil except biofuels. In the hyper-wealthy world we may see an electric car here and there. But the 4 billion people in the developing world will be driving ICE cars for decades to come. And that means either $100-150pb oil (the real price of oil is around $400pb), or $35pb biofuels.

Obviously, biofuels are currently the only option for these countries.



I am not saying that biofuel necessarily destroy the rain forest, but just doubt that the idea of coolecting the the babassu nut in the rain forest will motivate people to protect the forest, the rationnal being : if you show the communities living in the forest how to make money with the forest then as money corrupt everything they will try to make more money with the forrest and will start to favor only the species of tree that are profitable and scrap the rest.

But asides of this I truly believe in the future of biofuel as long we don't expect them to do the same thing as oil do. If we try to run our SUVs with biofuel I am afraid we won't drive them for long. Now if you drive an Aptera, or a Loremo or a Venture car or a Toyota 1/X with biofuel then biofuel will support a significant part of our transportations if not all.

1.5bn hectares of non forest area available for biofuels sounds a lot ? that's 15 millions Km2 that's the surface of 1.5 times US sounds a lot, isn't it . Anyawy that's correspond to 1.5Billions tons of gas at worse and 4.5 billions ton at best. total oil crude consumption is 4billions tons which 70% of it for transportation ~ 3 billions tons depending on EROI and yield. So quit a margin indeed and yes will need to creates millions of job to grow and harvest 3 billions tons of biomass every years....


Does anybody know if they have machines to break the babassu nuts?


"as money corrupt everything they will try to make more money with the forest and will start to favor only the species of tree that are profitable and scrap the rest."

This assumes the negative idea that there are no successful models for managing forest. In fact there are many models today thanks to the good work of environmentalists and industry. The recent agreement in British Columbia to manage the Great Bear Rainforest is an example. Sustainable crops must be stewarded by farmers, natives, industry and regulators. It can and must be done.


Why not algae as the feedstock, grown on marginal lands, desert or in bags afloat at sea? Don't need to worry about taking up native land.


Branson himself has said that the use of a first generation biofuel like this was only a demonstration.

In the future he said he wants to use algae, in a manner that is sustainable and does not encroach on food-crop production. That means he's already speaking to the algae companies about scaling, and that's a good thing.


Excellent news for Virgin and hopefully the rest of us.

Unfortunately the news in the UK has been slated quite a lot. The usual suspects (i.e. Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth) have dropped out of their trees to slam the whole thing as unsustainable and stop biofuels progressing, without realising that biofuels could come from sustainable sources such as algae and could provide a real solution in neutralising carbon emissions from transport and perhaps many wider applications.

I do share the concerns about deriving biofuels from corn, sugar beet, palm oil etc. However, with the availability of potentially sustainable sources and methods I really think that their attitude is very narrow minded. I suspect that these negative comments are fuelled if anything by a bigger anti-capitalist agenda, especially a hatred for personal mobility and flying, and plans for airport expansion in the UK.

Without biofuels, oil will continue to be consumed at accelerating rates, until there is no more capacity to the detriment of worldwide economies and environmental concerns. Is that really what these people want, because that is what will happen if we stop any progress and stifle innovation.


Chille, I think what people get frustrated about is that biofuels and hydrogen fuel cells get so much attention and research money, when both of these technologies are not currently GHG-friendly or practical, yet they get this attention to the detriment of what really is indeed a viable solution - electric cars with solar cells and wind production. All that is required is that the major corporations commit to producing them on economies-of-scale and they will become cost-competitive. They aren't doing this.

Plus, Indonesia cut all its rainforests down and burned them to make biofuel plantations. Thaat doesn't bode so well.

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