NewsHistoric flight: first transatlantic journey on alternative fuels

Historic flight: first transatlantic journey on alternative fuels

The first airplane powered by eco-friendly fuel sets off on a journey.
The first airplane powered by eco-friendly fuel sets off on a journey.
Images source: © Canva | canva

8:26 PM EST, November 28, 2023

The world's first transatlantic plane powered by alternative fuels embarks on its maiden flight. The aircraft is set to take off from London, with New York as its final destination.

This marks an enormous success for the aviation industry, an area where the process of decarbonization has been progressing extremely slowly. The first transatlantic plane powered by alternative fuels started its inaugural journey on Tuesday, November 28. The aircraft left from London Heathrow airport, headed for J.F. Kennedy airport in New York.

Plane powered by corn

The plane is the property of the air-carrier Virgin Atlantic and it's powered by sustainable aviation fuel (SAF). This fuel can be manufactured from various sources, including crops, household waste, or cooking oils. History's first eco-friendly plane was filled with 50 metric tons of SAF, 12% of which is by-product from corn production in the United States, and the remaining 88% is fat waste.

A variety of companies partnered for this project, including BP and Rolls-Royce. Previously, sustainable aviation fuel was only used in small amounts to power jets, and it was always mixed with conventional fuel.

Drastic change or the lesser of two evils?

However, Dr. Guy Gratton, Associate Professor of Aviation and Environment at Cranfield University, urges caution about overly optimistic reactions to the first "ecological flight". Speaking to the BBC, he said: "we can't produce a majority of our fuel requirements this way because we just don't have the feedstocks. And even if you do, these fuels are not true 'net zeros'".

Gratton further added that we should view SAF as "a stepping stone towards future, genuinely net zero technologies". "This might be e-fuels [made from captured carbon dioxide or carbon monoxide with hydrogen], it might be hydrogen, it might be some technologies that we still really only have at the laboratory stage".

The British government intends to mandate that by 2030, sustainable aviation fuels should make up 10% of the fuel used in planes. However, environmentalists argue that this will not solve the environmental pollution problem. They believe that the only real solution for reducing pollution from aviation fuels is to cut down the number of flights.

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