We've written about Richard Branson and Virgin's foray into biofuels for aviation. There are some news on that front, but unfortunately they aren't all good. Virgin was never clear on what type of biofuel it was going to use, but it said it wanted something "truly sustainable" that did not compete with food and fresh water resources.
It seems like it's not quite what we're going to get for the first flight this month: "it will not be an algae or halophyte-derived alternative, second-generation biofuels that come from renewable and sustainable feedstocks. Rather, it will be a first-generation biofuel whose feedstock is generally understood to compete with either land and water use for food crops or carbon sinks such as rainforests." But this is still partly good news.The reason why there's cause to celebrate is that this test flight will still move forward research on cleaner fuels for planes. It will also help make the issue more visible and maybe other airlines will follow suit in the same way that the Toyota Prius hybrid paved the way in the late 1990s. As oil keeps getting more expensive and new carbon taxes and cap-and-trade plans appear on the horizon, having access to low-carbon fuels might become a big competitive advantage.
We encourage Virgin to not give up on finding truly sustainable second-generation biofuels (made from algae, for example) that don't compete with food and fresh water resources. Anything less is too big a compromise and won't be truly green.
The next big step might be flying wings. Who knows?
Update: Seems like some plane enthusiasts are reading TreeHugger. Apparently first photo above is a doctored image. We found it by doing a search for "virgin boeing 747" and didn't know that there are no double-decker 747. Sorry, our bad. We're leaving the photo because it seems to be a good conversation piece for commenters!
See also: ::Syntec Biofuel: Closer to Fuel from Waste, ::X-48B Blended Wing Body Research Aircraft Has Lift-Off, ::Blended Wing Concept 3000 Times Quieter, 35% More Efficient, ::Where Do Airplanes Go When They Die?