Virgin Atlantic Uses CF6 Engine Powers First Flight Using Biofuel
Flight preceded by GE/CFM ground tests at GE's Ohio facility
LONDON -- Virgin Atlantic, one of the world's leading long-haul airlines, flew a GE-powered 747 jumbo jet on biofuel from London Heathrow to Amsterdam -- becoming the first airline in the world to fly on renewable fuel. Virgin Atlantic partnered with Boeing, GE Aviation and Imperium Renewables.
The Virgin Atlantic aircraft flew its CF6-powered aircraft with one engine using a biofuel composed of babassu oil and coconut oil. These oils are environmentally and socially sustainable. They can both be found in everyday cosmetic products, such as lip balm and shaving cream, and do not compete with staple food sources.
In addition, the babassu nuts and coconuts were harvested from existing, mature plantations. No modifications were made to either the aircraft or its CF6 engines to enable the flight to take place.
Sunday's historic flight was preceded by ground testing in December 2007 of the Imperium fuel on a CFM56 engine at GE's Peebles, Ohio, facility. "During these ground tests, the biofuel performed as we expected, with no negative impact on performance and with the same excellent fuel burn and emission levels," Dr. Tim Held, manager of Advanced Combustion Engineering at GE Aviation. "This successful ground test program gave us a great opportunity to advance our understanding of jet engines running on these biofuel blends."
Commenting on the first ever airline flight using biofuel, Sir Richard Branson, the President of Virgin Atlantic, said: "Today marks a biofuel breakthrough for the whole airline industry. Virgin Atlantic, and its partners, are proving that you can find an alternative to traditional jet fuel and fly a plane on new technology, such as sustainable biofuel. 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, fuels which will power our aircraft in the years ahead through sustainable next-generation oils, such as algae."
GE Tim Held's remarks at the Virgin Atlantic event:
"GE Aviation is thrilled to participate in this historic event - and it fits right in with our technical expertise and corporate goals. GE has considerable experience testing fuels derived from biomass in our jet engines. We use alternative fuels in our aeroderivative engines for marine and industrial applications - including biodiesel for cruise ships. In fact, our friends from Imperium are a major supplier of biodiesel for GE-powered cruise ships for Royal Caribbean Cruises.
Today's event also mirrors the "ecomagination" focus at General Electric - our parent company. The corporation's annual R&D investment in clean technologies will reach 1.5 billion U.S. dollars by 2010. At GE Aviation, we invest $1 billion U.S. dollars each year on jet engine technology - and a large portion is committed to reducing emissions, noise, and fuel burn - on future and existing jet engines.
GE is a leader in reducing CO2 emissions by improving the fuel efficiency of our engines. With today's historic flight, we take the first steps toward using fuels that can also contribute to reduction in net CO2 emissions through their sustainable production.
To prepare for today, we began testing samples of Imperium biofuels in laboratory component tests - to better understanding their physical properties, like freeze point, and their combustion characteristics. Then, GE and CFM International, our partnership with Snecma of France - conducted ground testing of Imperium biofuel blends.
In December, at GE's test operations in rural Ohio - we ran two Imperium biofuel blends on a CFM56 engine for about four hours each - over a wide range of power settings and throttle movements. As you know, a GE CF6 engine on Virgin's 747 will run on a biofuel blend of 80 percent Jet A-1, and 20 percent biofuel. During our jet engine ground testing, we successfully ran one Imperium blend as high as 40 percent biofuel.
We also had a great partnership for conducting advanced emissions measurements - and our thanks go out to Boeing, Aerodyne Research, Missouri University of Science and Technology, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration, and the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory.
The results of the ground testing were very encouraging. For starters, the engine required no hardware modifications to run the different biofuel blends. Reflecting those test results - all four GE CF6 engines on Richard's 747 for today's flight are configured exactly the same. That's very significant.
Better yet, the biofuel blends performed as we expected - with no negative impact on performance - and with the same excellent fuel burn and emission levels. There were slight variances in the engine's operation, as we expected - but they were well within the ability of the control system to manage."