Virgin Atlantic's historic Flight100, powered by 100% sustainable aviation fuel (SAF), soared from London-Heathrow to New York's JFK Airport this Tuesday, concluding a year-long collaboration to showcase SAF's capability as a safe and direct substitute for fossil fuel in aircraft, compatible with current engines, airframes, and fuel infrastructures.
SAF plays a crucial role in decarbonizing long-haul aviation, paving the way towards Net Zero 2050. Manufactured from waste, this fuel can reduce CO2 emissions by up to 70% over its lifecycle, mirroring the performance of traditional aviation fuel it replaces. While electric and hydrogen technologies are decades away, SAF is a viable option today, though it currently represents less than 0.1% of the global aircraft fuel volume, limited to a 50% SAF blend in commercial aircraft engines.
Flight100, beyond testing SAF capabilities, will evaluate its impact on flight carbon emissions with support from consortium partners ICF, Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI), Imperial College London, and the University of Sheffield.
This research will enhance the scientific understanding of SAF effects on contrails and particles, aiding in flight planning. The data and findings will be shared with the industry.
The unique double blend of SAF used in Flight100—88% HEFA (hydroprocessed esters and fatty acids) supplied by AirBP and 12% SAK (synthetic aromatic kerosene) supplied by Virent, a subsidiary of Marathon Petroleum Corporation—demonstrates the potential of sustainable aviation fuel.
HEFA is derived from waste fats, while SAK is produced from plant sugars, with the remaining proteins, oil, and fibers remaining in the food chain. The addition of SAK is crucial for the required aromatic properties in 100% SAF blends for proper engine operation.
Virgin Atlantic, committed to sustainable flying, operates one of the youngest and most fuel-efficient fleets. Flight100 builds on the airline's 15-year history as a SAF pioneer.
"Flight100 proves that sustainable aviation fuel can serve as a safe and direct substitute for fossil fuel, representing the only viable solution for decarbonizing long-haul aviation. It required radical collaboration to reach this point, and we are proud to achieve this significant milestone, but we must continue to progress," commented Shai Weiss, CEO of Virgin Atlantic. "Innovation is about going out there and trying to demonstrate that we can do things better for the benefit of all.
Virgin Atlantic has been challenging the status quo since 1984, pushing the aviation sector to never settle and do better—from carbon fiber planes and fleet modernization to sustainable fuels," said Sir Richard Branson, founder of Virgin Atlantic.
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