Boeing, Virgin Atlantic partner to test biopowered plane

By Lindsey Irwin
In April, Virgin Atlantic placed an order for 15 Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner aircrafts worth an estimated $2.8 billion and created a new environmental partnership between the two companies. As part of the new alliance, Boeing and Virgin Atlantic-along with Virgin Fuels and GE Aviation-will be using a Virgin Atlantic Boeing 747-400 to demonstrate the suitability of biofuels for aircraft engines, according to Bill Glover, managing director of environmental strategy for Boeing's commercial airplanes.

Boeing will handle the initial screening and evaluation of fuel samples that may come from a number of different sources, such as soybeans, rapeseed, algae and palm oil, and also regional solutions like the oil from the babasu tree in Brazil, Glover said. If the fuels samples meet Boeing's performance criteria, then they will be sent to NASA for additional testing, he added.

Glover estimates that the wide use of biofuels in aircraft fuel is probably five to seven years away. "Any potential alternative fuels must meet the performance, technical and safety requirements that are unique to aviation, regardless of the source," Glover said. "The production must also take into consideration the big picture aspects encompassing the complete product lifecycle and all relevant environmental aspects, including being economically viable to produce."