A transatlantic flight departed this Tuesday on its first route between London and New York, following the tradition of connecting the two sides of the Atlantic, using 100% sustainable fuel.
The English company Virgin Atlantic was in charge of putting into the air a Boeing 787 that, they assured, uses a “sustainable aviation fuel” (SAF, in English), which is a substitute for jet fuel derived from fossils. Its critics, however, claim that the SAF used will do little to reduce aviation’s climate impact.
In 2008, Virgin Atlantic and aircraft manufacturer Boeing completed the first commercial SAF test flight on a 747; However, it is only now that they managed to complete the project called Flight 100.
The idea, the company said, is to demonstrate SAF’s ability as a safe substitute for fossil-derived fuels and is basically produced from used cooking oils and animal fats.
The SAF used by Virgin Atlantic has been made from waste products which is a unique dual blend; 88% HEFA (Hydroprocessed Esters and Fatty Acids) from residual fats and 12% SAK (Synthetic Aromatic Kerosene), which is made from vegetable sugars; the rest comes from proteins, oils and vegetable fibers.
In a statement released this Tuesday, Virgin Atlantic maintains that the SAF “is the only viable medium-term solution to decarbonize long-haul aviation.”
During flight, SAF burns like normal jet fuel and produces the same amount of emissions. However, it has a smaller carbon footprint, because it is generally made from plants that have absorbed carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere when they were alive.
Virgin Atlantic was not the only one that developed the fuel. For an entire year, Boeing, Rolls-Royce, Imperial College London, the University of Sheffield, the ICF and the Rocky Mountain Institute, in partnership with the UK Department of Transport collaborated to achieve the milestone.
Shai Weiss, chief executive of Virgin Atlantic, said: “Flight100 demonstrates that sustainable aviation fuel can be used as a safe, direct replacement for fossil-based jet fuel and is the only viable solution to decarbonise long-haul aviation.”
Richard Branson, founder of Virgin Atlantic, assured that “the world will always assume that something can’t be done until you do it. The spirit of innovation is to go out and try to show that we can do things better for the benefit of everyone.”