Experts question biofuel use while Virgin fuels flight with coconut-oil

I’ve always had an intellectual crush on Richard Branson. He is one of the most fearless high-achievers I can think of today and never fails to surprise. So, when I read that his new idea that involved operating one of Virgin’s Boeing 747’s on jet-fuel (80%) and the oil from 150,000 coconuts was a preliminary success, I was, yet again, bamboozled.

The 40-minute flight from London to Amsterdam demonstrated the successful use of biofuels for the first time on a commercial flight and could possibly lead to a revolution in environmentally friendly aviation.

Many airline companies in association with the CAAFI have been working on using alternative fuels for their planes: synthetic jet-fuel, fuel derived from coal, gas-to-liquid (GTL) fuel. Earlier this month a 3-hour test flight by Airbus 380 was successful using GTL, the plane didn’t realize the difference and it was marked as the first step towards developing biofuel (biomass-to-liquid).

Although this would not be used (yet) for commercial flights, Branson’s bold attempt to jump the boat and get straight to experimenting with biofuel has, of course, caused an uproar among environmental groups: using coconut-oil on a large scale has many detrimental effects in the countries it comes from, encourages deforestation, etc.Branson’s next step is to nurture algae — a sustainable next-generation oil — to perhaps achieve the same on a larger scale. This idea, of course, has also been attacked along with mounting evidence that biofuels in fact do not reduce carbon emissions, and that algae may produce more carbon dioxide rather than not.

Initially, alternative fuels that will eventually lead to use of sustainable biofuels was the answer to responsible air and road travel; now, thanks to new evidence, another study on the environmental and economic impact of biofuels has been demanded for.

What’s admirable about Branson is that he doesn’t waste time or banter, he just comes up with a valid solution that no one has thought of, or thought of but not had the guts to give it a try. Everyone else just seems to keep coming up with studies and theories, and studies and theories. And after all these studies and theories(!), why are we going around in pointless circles?