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Virgin Atlantic Flies Jet Using Biofuel

Air travel is growing rapidly around the world and the fuel jets burn is a major contributor of greenhouse gases. Virgin Atlantic Airlines President Richard Branson demonstrated this week that using biofuel to power a commercial jetliner may make the sky a little greener. Paul Sisco has today's Searching for Solutions report.

With much fanfare billionaire entrepreneur Richard Branson tested a Boeing 747 jumbo jet's ability to fly with biofuel powering its massive engines.

"What we are trying to prove is something most of the people have said is impossible," Branson explains. "People have said it is impossible for biofuel to be used in current-day jet engines at 30,000 feet (10,000 meters), that it will freeze; and we've been working with GE (General Electric) and Boeing over the last year to prove them wrong, and we've actually found that we could use up to a 40 percent biofuel mix in conventional jet engines."

The London to Amsterdam flight was partially powered with a mixture of coconut and babassu nut oil. Branson calls the development historic. Many environmentalists oppose it.

Leo Murray, who is with an (activist) organization called Plane Stupid says, "This is a greenwash venture that is designed to send a message out to the public that it's ok to continue flying because a 'technofix' is just around the corner."

Jos Dings, directs a group called the European Federation for Transport and the Environment. "It depends crucially on what sort of biofuel you use, how much land that biofuel actually uses," he explained. "If Virgin would power its entire fleet with biofuel, it would have to use about half of (Britain's) arable land in order to achieve that, and that outlines the scale of the problem."

Branson counters that this is a start, and he has pledged more than a billion (U.S.) dollars for continued research into greener fuels.