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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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RE: Less = More
By masher2 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:

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 additional 9+ years.

RE: Less = More
By andyjary on 2/25/08, Rating: -1
RE: Less = More
By masher2 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 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 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.

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.

"A lot of people pay zero for the cellphone ... That's what it's worth." -- Apple Chief Operating Officer Timothy Cook

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