Monday, February 25, 2008

Biofueled Aircraft

Over the weekend, Virgin Atlantic became the first airline to test its aircraft using a mixture of gasoline and biofuel. A flight from London to Amsterdam was loaded with 20% coconut and babassu oil into one of its four fuel tanks, making the flight a 5% biofuel blend. Although the numbers and distance traveled are small, it is encouraging to see that this idea is being tested. Richard Branson said that the flight was "historic" and while I think the enthusiasm should be downplayed a little bit, the fact that this type of blend could be used in the airline industry could be a sign of something major occurring in a few years. I say this because just last week Boeing announced that they would like to see more research going into aircraft capable of running on biofuel blends and more research into making these types of fuels.

The fact is that airplanes use a large amount of energy separate from the conventional gasoline loaded into our cars. With technology being developed right now to convert several feedstocks into fuels, such as trash, corn, switchgrass, and others, it will only be a matter of time before the capability exists for large-scale aircraft fuel. Recently the United States Airforce also stated that they would be interested in exploring biofuels as an alternative in their fighter jets. And the fact is, as far as I know, there is no way to use BEV (battery electric vehicle) technology in airplanes and so regardless of the direction cars go in, airplanes will still require an upgrade in their transportation fuels.

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