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Virgin boss pledges readies to greenies

£1.6bn for alternative energy research

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Sir Richard Branson has pledged to invest the next 10 years of profits from his Virgin travel firms into developing technologies that will reduce our reliance on fossil fuels. The commitment is apparently worth around £1.6bn over the period.

He made the announcement on day two of the annual Clinton Global Initiative conference in New York.

He explained that the money from his travel companies, such as Virgin Trains and Virgin Atlantic, would be funnelled into a new division of his empire called Virgin Fuels.

Virgin Fuels will invest in research into alternative and renewable energy supplies, such as bio-fuels.

Sir Richard said: "We must rapidly wean ourselves off our dependence on coal and fossil fuels."

He argued that travel firms needed to lead the way in developing "environmentally friendly business strategies".

The move is not entirely altruistic: travel firms are under increasing pressure from environmental lobby groups. Friends of the Earth (FoE), for instance, warns that if the growth in air travel is not curtailed, we face a "climactic disaster".

FoE is one of many groups campaigning for air fuel to be taxed in the same way petrol is. Currently, no duty is payable on kerosene, and in 2005 Tony Blair ruled out imposing any taxes on the fuel.

Against this background, positioning himself as a greenie will do him and his firms no harm. But nor is it entirely spin: Branson has already announced funding for a California based firm that is developing a way of producing ethanol from corn. ®

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