Virgin Atlantic achieved the first cross-Atlantic flight with a commercial airliner fueled solely with animal fat (tallow and other waste fats) on Tuesday. The achievement is a milestone in low-emission technology and what insiders are calling “jet zero.”
The Virgin Atlantic Boeing 787 plane flew from London to New York and was achieved through a collaboration between the UK government and Virgin Group Limited. Virgin founder Richard Branson was on board the flight. “The world will always assume something can’t be done, until you do it,” Branson said.
The Virgin flight used a blend of 88 percent waste fats from AirBP and 12 percent synthetic aromatic kerosene composed out of sugar.
Virgin Atlantic’s #Flight100 took to the skies today. The world’s first 100% Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF) transatlantic flight by a commercial airline ✈ https://t.co/u75pv9hMbb @virginatlantic pic.twitter.com/LJQNfxpwiT
— Virgin (@Virgin) November 28, 2023
The UK Transport Department put up 1 million pounds ($1.27 million) toward the planning and operating of the flight. Government officials as well as top engineers and journalists joined Branson for the voyage.
According to the US Department of Energy, animal fat-fueled flights or “sustainable aviation fuel” (SAF) reduces flight greenhouse gas emissions by roughly 70 percent and represent the best option for achieving “net-zero” status by 2050.
The US Government Accountability Office (GAO) says aviation fuel makes up less than 0.1 percent of jet fuel used in most commercial American flights. Nevertheless, production of said fuel increased from 2 million gallons in 2016 to 15.8 million in 2022. The Biden White House established a goal of reaching “at least” 3 billion gallons of SAF production per year by 2030.
Meanwhile, the UK’s Royal Society earlier this year claimed that only some biofuels could accurately be considered net low carbon, and that so-called “feedstock” was not likely to scale well. Additionally, some environmental groups warn that biofuels will add to deforestation and food scarcity. For such special interest groups, the only solution is to limit the number of flights allowed per year.
Virgin Atlantic CEO Shai Weiss was proud of the accomplishment, however. He said the successful operation will prove that SAF “can be used as a safe, drop-in replacement for fossil-derived jet fuel and it’s the only viable solution for decarbonising long haul aviation.”
“There’s simply not enough SAF and it’s clear that in order to reach production at scale, we need to see significantly more investment,” he went on. “This will only happen when regulatory certainty and price support mechanisms, backed by Government, are in place.”