Virgin Atlantic and LanzaTech hope to produce jet fuel from waste CO from steel mills

Back in October 2011, Virgin Atlantic announced it was working with LanzaTech (which describes itself as a company that sees waste CO2 as an opportunity, not a liability) to produce a low carbon jet fuel, from waste carbon monoxide from steel works. The hope was for rapid progress. Now Richard Branson has announced that the plant has produced 1,500 US gallons of jet fuel from ‘Lanzanol’ – LanzaTech’s low carbon ethanol. The fuel is made by trapping waste gases from steel mills, and “fermenting” them in a manner that is not described, to produce ethanol. (Some work at Stanford University in 2014 suggested CO and water could be combined to make ethanol using a specially formulated copper catalyst. Link )  Virgin says the alcohol can be converted (not a cheap process) into jet fuel, and hopes it will “result in carbon savings of 65% compared to conventional jet fuel.”  A benefit would be if the CO2 is not released from the chimneys of steel mills into the atmosphere. Virgin hopes for a “proving flight” in 2017 using the fuel, and in due course LanzaTech would fund and build their first commercial jet fuel plant “hopefully in the UK, to supply fuel to Virgin Atlantic and other airlines.” And then that there might eventually be “15 billion gallons of jet fuel per year.”  There is no obvious reason, if this sort of fuel can be made, why it would be for aviation – rather than for important terrestrial uses.



Low carbon fuel breakthrough for Virgin Atlantic

Delighted to share an exciting breakthrough in Virgin Atlantic and LanzaTech’s efforts to develop commercially viable low carbon fuel. For the first time ever, 1,500 US gallons of jet fuel has been produced from ‘Lanzanol’ – LanzaTech’s low carbon ethanol.

Virgin Atlantic has been working with LanzaTech since 2011, towards producing the world’s first jet fuel derived from waste industrial gases from steel mills (that would otherwise go up chimneys) via a fermentation process. The alcohol-to-jet fuel has passed all its initial performance tests with flying colours, and initial analyses suggest the new fuel will result in carbon savings of 65 per cent compared to conventional jet fuel.

This is a real game changer for aviation and could significantly reduce the industry’s reliance on oil within our lifetime. Virgin Atlantic was the first commercial airline to test a bio-fuel flight and continues to be a leader in sustainable aviation. We chose to partner with LanzaTech because of its impressive sustainability profile and the commercial potential of the jet fuel. Our understanding of low carbon fuels has developed rapidly over the last decade, and we are closer than ever before to bringing a sustainable product to the market for commercial use by Virgin Atlantic and other global airlines.

We will keep working with Boeing and many other aviation industry colleagues on additional testing, before approving the fuel for first use in a commercial aircraft. If that all goes well, the innovative LanzaTech jet fuel could be used in a first of its kind ‘proving flight’ next year. If this was successful, we would seek approval to use the fuel on routine commercial flights. This would also help pave the way for LanzaTech to fund and build their first commercial jet fuel plant, hopefully in the UK, to supply fuel to Virgin Atlantic and other airlines.

The future potential of this technology is enormous. LanzaTech estimates its process could be retrofitted to 65 per cent of the world’s steel mills, potentially being able to produce 30 billion gallons of ethanol worldwide, for around 15 billions gallons of jet fuel p.a (nearly one fifth of all aviation fuel used each year).

This breakthrough follows our recent order of 12 Airbus A350-1000. The aircraft is designed to be 30 per cent more fuel and carbon efficient than the aircraft it replaces in the fleet and is expected to reduce the airline’s noise footprint at its airports by more than half – another real investment in creating one of the youngest, cleanest, greenest fleets in the sky. Head over to Virgin Atlantic to find out more.