World's First Biofuel Flight Takes Off!

  • Posted on: 25 February 2008
  • By: Bryan Schaaf
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Ever thought that you would see the day when jumbo jets were powered by biofuels?  Thanks to Virgin Airlines, we now know it is possible.  Click here to watch the (successful) test flight and then check out this article in the Toronto Global and Mail. What does this have to do with Haiti?  Presently, not much.  But it has a great deal to do with the future viability of biofuel production in Haiti for domestic and international consumption.


The significance of this flight is that it shows plants can be used to make fuels that meet strict technical guidelines.  In this case, the plane was fueled by a clear liquid derived from coconuts and the Amazonian babassu tree.  But there are many different possibilities including jatropha, algae, etc.  We are still very much in the experimental phase and have a lot to learn - but the rewards could be great.



Some environmentalists expressed dissatisfaction with the flight, noting that the net carbon dioxide emission was reduced by only 20%.  We should not be satisfied either, nor is the founder Richard Bransen, satisfied.  But let's keep this in perspective - we are the very beginning of a long road.   We view this as a necessary step, but there are many still ahead.  With each innovation, the viability of biofuels becomes more clear.


As time goes on, emissions could decrease further.  Given the current state of biofuels it would be unrealistic to expect airlines to switch overnight.  One commentator in the video notes that if Virgin Airlines were to switch completely to biofuels tomorrow, over half of the United Kingdom's arable land would be needed to fuel its airplanes.  If oil continues to rise in price, and many think it will, the motivation for green energy will become even stronger.



The article notes that Richard Bransen has promised to invest profits from his transport empire in biofuel production.  This is where Haiti comes in.  Haiti has enormous labor potential, an agricultural sector in need of reinvigoration, and land with which to do it.  The first priority should be meeting its own domestic energy needs, but there could be a definite market for biofuels, whether from Jatropha or another source. 



Let's take a close look at the biofuel experiences of Brazil, India, and the Phillipines.  Urgent problems require innovative solutions and Haiti can still be at the forefront of biofuel production in the Carribean.  It will take political will from the government and private sector expertise.  Biofuels could contribute to a more self-reliant, productive, and stable Haiti - that's in all of our interests.



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