File:LH MUC.jpg

 

Is it a bird? Is it a plane? Yes, it’s a plane – only possibly not your average plane. That jet flying overhead may well be bio-fuelled – if you happen to be in Germany – and soon, everywhere else.

We’d only just got over the excitement of blogging on the possibility of solar-powered planes when we heard the maybe slightly less exciting but still intriguing news that Lufthansa are mixing it up by using biosynthetic kerosene in scheduled flights.

Although the four-times daily flights between Hamburg and Frankfurt represent cautious beginnings in this field, it’s still pretty big news, as no-one’s ever done this in passenger flying before. But it’s not without controversy.

The plane’s fuel is partly fuelled by jatropha, a plant that’s commonly known by the quite quaint moniker of ‘physic nut.’ But the arguments around biofuels are not in the least bit quaint. Anywhere a crop of any kind is concerned, the issues of land-use, food supply and environmental damage rear their heads.

The debate will go on, and checks and balances may be put in place in the future, but it appears that in the present, airline confidence in biofuels in their refueling future has not been too affected. Thomson has said it will begin biofuel flights by the end of the month, while Virgin, Continental, JAL and Air NZ have ongoing programs looking into the idea.

We recently discussed fuel-from-waste from a design point of view, but the comments we received underlined the point that this alternative fuel is another not without its critics.

So the news that British Airways has entered a partnership with an American company, Solena, to turn household waste into 16 million gallons of jet fuel won’t be received well by some.

As every industry sector crunches economics with the pressing need to find alternatives to fossil fuels, it’s fair to say that some conflict is unavoidable. There’s clearly a massive amount to be done before flying can ever be ‘green’, and it’s equally clear that our beloved solar plane is a long way off 747-ready, but we’re pleased the airlines are looking in earnest at alternatives – and more tellingly, putting their money where their mouth is.

And while the research and development continues, you can always check out our guide to flying and greener travel.