Sir Richard Branson, who founded the Virgin Atlantic airline in 1984, plans to make planes out of a wonder material within 10 years. Since the airline industry battles a 50 percent increase in fuel in the last 12 months, sparking a frantic need for ever lighter planes, this could be great news.
Graphene, a two-dimensional layer of carbon atoms forming a regular hexagonal pattern, has a litany of uses from solar cells to durable yet flexible display screens. This amazing material extracted from graphite is also said to be as light as a feather yet 200 times stronger than the strongest steel.
The Virgin Atlantic president described the ultra-lightweight material as a ‘breakthrough technology’, which he said could help revolutionise the airline industry and lighten its costs.
Speaking in Seattle, Sir Richard said, “Graphene is even lighter [than carbon fibre], many times lighter and many times stronger. Hopefully graphene can be the planes of the future, if you go 10 years down the line. They would be massively lighter than the current planes, which again would make a difference on fuel burn.” He also said that the airline was still committed to decreasing their carbon footprint through using cleaner fuels. They’re currently working with Lanzatech, a US-based clean fuels specialist, to convert carbon waste into ethanol that can be made into jet fuel.
Although the product has yet to be started, Virgin superiors are confident it could revolutionise the way the planes consume fuel. “If you take all the steel plants and all the aluminium plants around the world and take all the shit that goes up the chimneys, and then you turn that into jet aviation fuel, something like 30-40 percent could be powered that way. The question is: are they going to be able to scale it up enough to really make a difference?” Sir Richard said.
Well, if it helps the environment, then might as well join the bandwagon