Planes Set to be Made from Wonder Material Graphene

Flying plane

Credit: Public Domain Pictures

A new prospect of planes being made entirely from Graphene – the wonder material in 10 years was raised by Sir Richard Branson. This is in the backdrop of the airline industry fighting a 50% increase in fuel in the last 12 months and a need felt for lighter fleets.

What is Graphene? Graphene is known to be a single layer of carbon atoms which form a regular hexagonal pattern and is extracted from graphite. It is featured with a multitude of uses inclusive of it being as light and yet stronger than steel.

The Virgin Atlantic president, who founded the airline in 1984, highlighted that the super-lightweight material was a breakthrough technology. The technology could revolutionise the airline industry and also transform the cost base.

Sir Richard reiterated his thoughts on graphene in Seattle where the British airline had begun flying on a daily basis for the first time. He said that graphene was lighter (than carbon fibre) and many times lighter and equally stronger. He added that graphene could be the planes of the future 10 years down the line. The planes would be lighter than the current versions and would make a difference on fuel burn.

The entrepreneur linked the vision for graphene planes to his previous stimulation of Airbus and Boeing line of thought to make the planes from carbon fibre. The 787 Dreamliner planes of Boeing which sets flight on the London Heathrow-Seattle route under the Virgin flagship are made from 50% carbon fibre and other composite materials. This is contrary to the traditional 100% aluminium and results in 30% less fuel usage than a standard alternative.

Sir Richard reiterated that the airline was committed to the usage of cleaner fuels to reduce its carbon footprint. In this endeavour, Virgin Atlantic is working with Lanzatech, an US-based clean fuels specialist, on a biological process that could convert carbon waste into ethanol from the manufacturing processes. This, in turn, could be converted to jet fuel. Virgin management is hopeful that this could revolutionise how the fleet consumes fuel.

Sir Richard added how 30-40% could be powered by steel plants and aluminium plants around the world. He also brought out the subject on scaling it up to make a difference.

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