Biofuel trial flight set for 747 in 2008

(28.9.2007   BBC)

Air New Zealand says it plans to mount the first test flight of a commercial
airliner partially powered by biofuel.   Biofuel trial flight set for 747 in 2008.  
But Virgin Atlantic is planning to beat Air New Zealand to the punch by having
its own biofuel flight early next year.  

The 747 flight is one part of a deal signed by the airline, engine producer Rolls-Royce
and aircraft manufacturer Boeing to research “greener” flying.  

Virgin Atlantic is planning a UK-based test flight early next year which would
also see one engine of a 4-engined commercial jet running partially or entirely
on a biofuel.

Once hailed as a clean green saviour, the whole field of biofuels has become
more complex and controversial over the last couple of years.   Research shows
that some existing technologies actually result in increased greenhouse gas emissions
compared with conventional fuels.   There is growing concern too about the amount
of land needed to grow existing fuel crops such as rape and maize, and about the
impact on wildlife.

“It’s become flavour of the month for airlines to talk about biofuels, and flavour
of the month for environmentalists to say they’re not the answer,” observed Tim
Johnson, director of the Aviation Envionment Federation, a UK-based research and
campaign group.   “And it’s not just aviation chasing them, it’s every sector;
and at the end of the day, can we deliver on the supply side?”

AEF, along with many other observers, is more interested in the potential of
so-called second generation biofuels, where entire plants grown specifically for
fuel can be processed, rather than just parts of food crops as at present.   This
approach would use land more efficiently and produce far higher carbon savings.
But the technology is in its infancy, and widespread commercial use probably a
decade away.

An article, from De Spiegel Online, about the high carbon emissions caused by
some biofuels:,1518,508089,00.html
Article about UK biofuel producer:
“UK biodiesel producer slows refinery expansion”,,2177611,00.html
Article about Air New Zealand and biofuels
“Ordinarily, a Boeing 747 uses 16 tonnes of fuel just to take off, the equivalent
of running six family cars for a year.”