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Hissie Sola

World's first biofuel-powered jet

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Hissie Sola

LONDON, England (CNN) -- The world's first biofuel-powered commercial aircraft took off from London's Heathrow Airport on Sunday on a demonstration flight hailed as a first step towards "cleaner" flying.

The Virgin Atlantic Boeing 747 was flying to Amsterdam with no passengers on board as part of a joint initiative with planemaker Boeing and engine manufacturer GE Aviation to develop a "sustainable aircraft fuel."

Virgin Atlantic President Richard Branson said the test flight would help the airline to use clean fuel sooner than expected.

"The demonstration flight will give us crucial knowledge that we can use to dramatically reduce our carbon footprint," Branson said in a statement.

"Virgin Group pledged to invest all its profits from its transportation companies towards developing clean energy and with this breakthrough we are well down the path to achieving our goals."

Virgin said the fuel to be used for Sunday's flight -- a 20 percent biofuel mix of coconut and babassu oil in one of the plane's four main fuel tanks -- was of a type that wouldn't compete with food and fresh water resources amid mounting concerns among green campaigners about the environmental impact of biofuels.

Some studies suggest that converting land for crops such as palm oil used for biofuel can generate far more in carbon emissions than the savings delivered by the fuel. Increased use of biofuels could also prompt food shortages, campaigners warn, as greater areas of farmland are turned over to biofuel production.

Kenneth Richter, Friends of the Earth aviation campaigner, said: "Biofuels are a major distraction in the fight against climate change. There is mounting evidence that the carbon savings from biofuels are negligible.

"If Virgin was really serious about reducing the aviation industry's impact on the environment it would support calls for aircraft emissions to be included in the (UK government's) Climate Change Bill."

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