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After the successful flight, Virgin chief Sir Richard Branson was seen juggling coconuts and spoke to reporters about the event, which he feels marks a "vital breakthrough"  (Source: Reuters)

The Virgin Boeing 747 took off from London's Heathrow airport and flew a test flight, fueled partly by Brazilian babassu nuts and coconut biofuel -- the first biofuel flight of a commercial jet  (Source: Virgin Atlantic)
Virgin airlines runs first biofuel flight; environmentalists less than thrilled

Virgin Atlantic just completed the first flight by a commercial aircraft powered partly by biofuel.  The flight was powered by a particularly outlandish biofuel -- a mixture of Brazilian babassu nuts and coconuts.  The mixture helped to power the Virgin Boeing 747 jumbo jet's flight between London's Heathrow airport and an airport in Amsterdam.  The airliner had no passengers, in event of failure.

Quirky Virgin boss, Sir Richard Branson, claimed the flight was a "vital breakthrough" to the commercial airline industry.  He stated, "This pioneering flight will enable those of us who are serious about reducing our carbon emissions to go on developing the fuels of the future."

Sir Branson stated that he thinks that future won't be in nut fuels like the one used by the flight, but rather in feedstocks such as algae.  He failed to elaborate what exactly Virgin's algae-powered plane plans were, though he may have been referring to current efforts to produce hydrogen with algae.

The flight had one of its four engines connected to the biofuel tank.  This engine relied on the biofuel for 20% of its power, or about 5% of the total flight power.  The other three engines were left powered on traditional fuel to ensure a safe flight if the biofuel powered-engine failed.  The company said it selected its nuts based on the fact that they were from mature plantations and were non-competitive with local food staples.  The nuts selected were most commonly used in cosmetics and household paper products.

While biofuels sound like a development that would be championed by environmentalists, numerous environmental organizations were less than nuts about the flight which they labeled a "publicity stunt."  Environmentalists point out that biofuels are currently mechanically and economically not viable, and warn of the possible negative impact on world food crops

One U.N. official, typically a supporter of environmental issues, called biofuels a "crime against humanity."  Many researchers have shared the opinion that biofuels, in their current state, do more harm than help.  Most of these groups acknowledge that emerging processes such as cellulosic ethanol production or microbial hydrogen production may yield acceptable solutions, but firmly believe that none of the on-market solutions are good ones.

While Virgin believes that many of its aircraft will be plant-powered within 10 years, skeptics point to biofuel's tendency to freeze at high altitudes, a possibly catastrophic problem.  Kenneth Richter, of Friends of the Earth blasted the flight as a "gimmick" which he says takes the focus away from providing "real solutions for climate change." 

Richter elaborates, suggesting a different approach, "If you look at the latest scientific research it clearly shows biofuels do very little to reduce emissions.  At the same time we are very concerned about the impact of the large-scale increase in biofuel production on the environment and food prices worldwide.  What we need to do is stop this mad expansion of aviation. At the moment it is the fastest growing source of greenhouse gases in the UK, and we need to stop subsidizing the industry."

Greenpeace chief scientist, Dr Doug Parr, believes less air travel is the answer and labeled Virgin's press release as "high-altitude greenwash." Dr. Parr states, "Instead of looking for a magic green bullet, Virgin should focus on the real solution to this problem and call for a halt to relentless airport expansion."

While Virgin plans to blaze ahead with its biofuels program amid criticism, Airbus is testing another alternative fuel:  a synthetic mix of gas-to-liquid.  On February 1, it flew a plane from Filton near Bristol to Toulouse in a three hour test-flight using the fuel mix.  The aircraft used was none other than the world's largest jumbo jet, the A380.  Unlike Virgin, Airbus has been less vocal about its alternative energy flight program.



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Less = More
By masher2 (blog) on 2/25/2008 1:48:47 PM , Rating: 5
> "Greenpeace chief scientist, Dr Doug Parr, agrees that less air travel is the answer..."

When asked how people would still be able to attend far-off vacations and business trips, Dr. Parr replied, "That's why God made Birkenstocks".




RE: Less = More
By FITCamaro on 2/25/2008 2:02:52 PM , Rating: 5
Let's all start traveling by hot air balloon. We can get plenty of hot air from all the environmentalists out there.


RE: Less = More
By onwisconsin on 2/25/2008 8:11:14 PM , Rating: 5
Actually it could be powered by biofuel from all the crap that comes out of their mouths!


RE: Less = More
By Fnoob on 2/25/2008 9:26:09 PM , Rating: 2
Actually I believe Branson is powered by Dilaudid according to the pic.


RE: Less = More
By eye smite on 2/25/2008 11:53:02 PM , Rating: 3
We could always get gliders with a solar powered propeller on the back. Might take a while, but you'd get there.


RE: Less = More
By xphile on 2/26/2008 2:34:17 AM , Rating: 2
Actually according to his publicist it was all supposed to be "If you take this - you'll have big, powerful nuts too!" Hence the "vital breakthrough" ... and it was actually all just a subtle inferred reference to "All pilots have big balls" and his new advertising campaign for Virgin branded Viagra. Evidently, though obscure in meaning it will all come out in the wash eventually.


RE: Less = More
By herrdoktor330 on 2/28/2008 9:49:14 PM , Rating: 2
Agreed.

But what I really don't understand is this slant against biofuel. I really don't follow the concern that creating biofuels will cause a deficit of world food supplies. I can't speak for the rest of the world. But in the US, farmers are paid to not grow anything at all. In the production of mass amounts of soy and corn oils, it could create a new agricultural revolution. And I'm sure with some modern ingenuity, we could make even more soy and corn production all year round.

Another idea I find interesting is, based on a UN document, Africa could explode with viable agricultural production if it was managed properly. If the goverments in action there could work together to provide irrigation, tractors, and more modern farming techniques to farms in rural Africa they could be a very very large producer of these fuels. If Africa can have the "Green Revolution" that the UN wrote about, they could feed the continent and line their pockets with all the fuel and food they could potentially make.

But from what I understand about biodiesel, it burns cleaner than petrol diesel and the only real inefficiency in production is how much energy it takes to produce ethanol in place of methanol, a petrol product which is used in the chemical creation of vegetable oil to bio-d. Other than that, it can power cars, trains, busses, and everything esle for years to come. While the cold can prove a challenge by making conventional biodiesel gel at freezing temperatures, additives (likely petrol based) can be used to prevent that. But there are also wiz-bang methods of heating the fuel systems to prevent complete freezing from happening also. For all it's hairs and warts, biodiesel is a fair option for the rest of the non-freezing world that can still get access to methanol. I'm sure that over time, the other negatives to using it as a fuel can be worked out over time.

But I guess what I'm getting at in all of this is that the enviromentalists are full of malarky on this one.


RE: Less = More
By Oregonian2 on 2/25/2008 2:28:52 PM , Rating: 3
Is the production of Birkenstocks environmentally safe? It would take a LOT of them for a London to NYC trip I think. Or even for just a London to Frankfurt one. There also would be a LOT of effort involved which vastly increases CO2 emissions by the traveler. Is this environmentally safe? Does one have to buy carbon-credits if one is going to walk one of these trips? If one orders Birkenstocks and they come by FedEx (air) does that get counted as well?


RE: Less = More
By kattanna on 2/25/2008 2:58:42 PM , Rating: 5
can we not add the names of those 2 guys onto the US no fly list?


RE: Less = More
By DeepBlue1975 on 2/25/2008 3:20:43 PM , Rating: 5
"Greenpeace" and "scientist" are two words that should NEVER EVER be used in the same sentence.

It's a blatant insult to real scientists.


RE: Less = More
By djkrypplephite on 2/25/2008 3:34:36 PM , Rating: 2
This is true. Greenpeace is a socialist organization, not an environmental one.


RE: Less = More
By DeepBlue1975 on 2/25/2008 7:11:36 PM , Rating: 3
Not even that. I actually like many socialist policies and practices, but 99% of what Greedpiss propose and say is totally ridiculous and hypocrite. Now they say they'd like fewer flights to avoid pollution...
But do they travel across the oceans in engineless boats?

I guess they don't...

They don't understand the basic principle of looking forward by trying to find solutions to new problems by CREATING solutions, not by trying to stop things that are already widely accepted AND welcome!

The only thing they want is to have people's credit cards to finance their own flights and foolish propaganda, which will get them somewhere in the world where they'll say "we could use fewer flights".


RE: Less = More
By andyjary on 2/25/08, Rating: 0
RE: Less = More
By masher2 (blog) on 2/25/2008 8:09:14 PM , Rating: 2
> "1/6th of that money could have solved all your social security problems "

Your figures are far, far afield. The cost of five years of the Iraq War is nearly $500B. Social Security may be as much as $37 trillion in deficit. That's 74X as much by the way, in case you're not good with large numbers.

And just to clarify, that $37T figure isn't even close to total spending on SS -- it's just the anticipated shortfall:

http://www.heritage.org/Research/Budget/wm1054.cfm

Your "3 trillion figure" is just plain laughable. I think you've gotten a bit confused, possibly in relation to a CBO estimate from last year that, counting the war in Iraq *and* Afghanistan, estimated that total costs for both engagements could range up to $2.4...if we remained on station till 2017....an additional 9+ years.


RE: Less = More
By andyjary on 2/25/08, Rating: -1
RE: Less = More
By masher2 (blog) on 2/26/2008 12:26:37 AM , Rating: 3
> "Fine, but I think I'd believe a Noble Prize winner "

Until you realize that the prize-winner was a high-ranking member of the Clinton Administration, and a huge contributor to Democratic political campaigns. Hardly surprising what he'll write about George Bush, now is it?

His Nobel was for work in asymmetric markets, not exactly a field relevant to the discussion at hand. I'll take the GAO's estimate over his well-timed attempt to influence the 2008 election.

In any case, you've ignored the elephant in the room. Even with Stiglitz' bloated figures, the full cost of the war (much less the 1/6 figure you stated) isn't even a drop in the bucket to total Social Security Spending. Your belief that war spending has in some way affected our options regarding Social Security is flatly incorrect.


RE: Less = More
By MadMaster on 2/26/2008 12:59:15 PM , Rating: 2
Ah, but social security money stays in our economy (for the most part). War money is almost completely a economic loss.

It is difficult to predict the true economic loss, but somewhere between .5 trillion to 3 trillion is a good estimate.


RE: Less = More
By masher2 (blog) on 2/26/2008 1:51:45 PM , Rating: 2
I don't know where you get this stuff. Money paid to a US soldier stays in the economy just as much as money paid to a social security recipient. And money given to US firms for new weapons systems drives R&D. Historically, military expenditures have been a far larger economic driver than social security.

In fact, the only dollars which aren't acting to boost the economy are those given directly to Iraq...and most of those are earmarked for construction projects awarded to US firms, so your point is doubly moot.


RE: Less = More
By MadMaster on 2/26/2008 2:11:25 PM , Rating: 2
Exactly, you're paying a soldier money to go over there and fight instead of stay here and build a house, drill for oil, fix cars, etc.

The money spent to make one M1 tank could be spent to make 200 20k vehicles. Assuming the war costs an extra 100 billion per year, that's 333 dollars per person in extra taxes.

Granted, paying old people to do nothing, that is also a economic loss... you ever pay anybody to do nothing, it is a economic loss. War is akin to doing nothing.


RE: Less = More
By masher2 (blog) on 2/26/2008 3:15:41 PM , Rating: 2
> "you're paying a soldier money to go over there and fight instead of stay here and build a house, drill for oil, fix cars, etc"

Which is equivalent to paying a welfare recipient to sit on the couch and do nothing. So what's the difference?

> "War is akin to doing nothing. "

Pretty much, yes. But as I said earlier, a large portion of war funding is funnelled into R&D efforts...something that doesn't happen with social spending (barring things like education, of course, which we're not discussing here). That boosts science and technology, and eventually pays dividends.

So while war and social spending are both net losses for a nation, war is less of one. And that flatly contradicts your earlier point.


RE: Less = More
By Hawkido on 2/28/2008 1:11:25 PM , Rating: 2
Wow! You are a bum...

Have you ever served in the military?

I didn't think so, your parents wouldn't let you, because they were afraid you would grow some balls. (Yes both boys and girls grow balls in the military, the girls' balls are just invisible. And it makes them far tougher than any civilian, male or female)

The money paid to a soldier is direct deposited into his/her Bank account here in the US. The soldier's spouse uses that money to buy clothes and put a roof over their kids heads.

I suggest you do some research before you start blasting our Boys and Girls over there.

Most of them spend very little money while they are over there. Much less is spent per soldier over there in a 12 month deployment than is spent per person on a one week trip to Mexico.

So if you are wanting to stim the outflow of US dollars to foriegn countries you would be better served by cutting off all recreational travel to foriegn countries for one month during the summer VS anything with our troops.

And social security adds nothing to Society, as that money paid out was taken from this generation of workers minus the overhead of IRS and government handling at all levels which is in the Billions a year. Someone with the correct figure, add it please.

quote:
War is akin to doing nothing.


Funny, getting defeated in akin to doing nothing. War is akin to fighting back so you don't get pummeled.


RE: Less = More
By jimbojimbo on 2/28/2008 3:11:25 PM , Rating: 2
But when we got paid all the money wound up in stateside banks that we couldn't even touch until we got back. Then we spent a good portion by fueling the economy with new car puchases and such.

You obviously don't know so let me clear it up. Even if we didn't go over there troops still get paid and do regular exercises which also cost up money all year round. If we're not at war we're training for war. And don't give me any of this death toll crap because more troops die of motorcycle/automobile accidents than from combat. I know because we got the spiel every holiday.


RE: Less = More
By SoCalBoomer on 2/26/2008 12:27:49 PM , Rating: 3
quote:
Moral of the story here: There is a world outside of America, really there is!


Funny how you seem to ignore that this article centers around a UK airline company. . .


RE: Less = More
By onwisconsin on 2/25/2008 8:12:50 PM , Rating: 2
I'd say more of a lobbyist organization (eg AARP, NRA, etc...) ;)


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