VIDEO: Virgin Atlantic set to pilot low carbon industrial waste jet fuel

Virgin Atlantic claims to have developed the world's first low carbon aviation fuel made from industrial steel waste gases, with just half the carbon footprint of fossil fuel alternatives.

The ground-breaking partnership with LanzaTech represents a breakthrough in aviation fuel technology that will see waste gases from industrial steel production being captured, fermented and chemically converted using Swedish Biofuels technology for use as a jet fuel.

The fuel production process recycles waste gases that would otherwise be burnt into the atmosphere as carbon dioxide. LanzaTech estimates that its process can apply to 65% of the world’s steel mills, allowing the fuel to be rolled out for worldwide commercial use.

It also believes that this process can be applied to metals processing and chemical industries, growing its potential further.

Within three years Virgin Atlantic plans flights with the new fuel on its routes from Shanghai and Delhi to London Heathrow as LanzaTech and partners develop facilities in China and India.

The technology is currently being piloted in New Zealand, a larger demonstration facility will be commissioned in Shanghai this year, and the first commercial operation will be in place in China by 2014.

A wider roll-out could include operations in the UK and the rest of the world. A demo flight with the new fuel is planned in 12-18 months.

LanzaTech’s estimates that its process can apply to 65 % of the world’s steel mills, allowing the fuel to be rolled out for worldwide commercial use. The energy company believes that this process can also apply to metals processing and chemical industries, growing its potential considerably further.

LanzaTech’s chief executive Dr Jennifer Holmgren said: “This technology will enable airlines to dramatically reduce their carbon footprint by reusing gases that would otherwise have been emitted directly into the atmosphere. It promotes sustainable industrial growth, as the process enables manufacturing plants to recycle their waste carbon emissions.

“While there is still work to be done and logistical hurdles to cross, we have excellent partners in Virgin Atlantic, Swedish Biofuels and Boeing and we are confident that we will have a facility with the capacity to produce fuel for commercial use by 2014.”

The next generation technology overcomes the complex land use issues associated with some earlier generation biofuels – and detailed analysis suggests the fuel will produce around a 50% saving in lifecycle carbon emissions.

Virgin Atlantic believes that this development will take the airline well beyond its pledge of a 30% carbon reduction per passenger km by 2020. Its investment in renewable fuels is part of a wider programme to reduce carbon through measures such as using new, more fuel-efficient aircraft and supporting a global carbon cap and trade scheme.

Maxine Perella

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