Developed as part of a partnership with LanzaTech – a firm which recycles industrial waste gases and other waste streams into ethanol-based aviation fuel – Virgin Atlantic claims that the fuel generates up to 70% less emissions than regular fossil jet fuel.

The innovative fuel will be used on a commercial flight for the first time next month, when one of Virgin Atlantic’s Boeing 747 aircraft will use  LanzaTech fuel to fly from London to Orlando. The airline is using the flight to raise awareness of its ambitions to secure the world’s first commercial LanzaTech low-carbon jet fuel plant, in order to roll out the fuel across its long-haul routes. 

Announcing the development in a blog post on Thursday (13 September), Virgin Atlantic founder Sir Richard Branson said the first flight would demonstrate the “art of the possible” and serve as a “landmark leap” towards decarbonising air travel.

“The appetite for long-haul travel is only getting bigger, and as airlines it’s our responsibility to deliver that in the most sustainable way possible,” he said. “This exciting first flight is all about showing we’re ready for business.”

Looking to the future, Branson said Virgin Atlantic would work with LanzaTech and the UK Government to secure the world’s first carbon capture and utilisation (CCU) commercial jet fuel production facility in the UK. 

LanzaTech claims that the gas-capturing technology could be scaled up and retrofitted at 65% of the world’s steel mills, giving it the potential to meet 20% of the global demand for aviation fuel. Around 150 million tonnes of CO2 emissions could be cut globally if gases from the steel industry were used to manufacture ethanol.

The technology recently appeared on edie’s “Horizon Scanning” feature, which outlines the six innovations set to shake-up sustainability. 

In the top flight

The announcement from Virgin Atlantic is the company’s latest attempt to reduce carbon emissions. A multi-billion-dollar Boeing fleet investment, engine taxiing and weight management have together contributed to Virgin Atlantic reducing total aircraft carbon emissions by 24% since 2007, for example.

The latest sustainability report from the company also reveals that CO2 per km travelled by passengers had also been reduced by 22%, while CO2 per revenue tonne-km was reduced by 17%, since 2007. 

Over the next five years, the company is set to replace 50% of its existing fleet with newer, more environmentally friendly aircraft. As part of the shift, it has placed a $4.4bn order for 12 Airbus A350-1000 planes, which generate 30% less emissions than Virgin Atlantic’s current 747-400 aircraft. 

Outside of its own operations, the airline continues to lobby for the UK Government to introduce policies aimed at spurring the uptake of low-carbon jet fuels. Branson has claimed that financial government incentives could help scale-up sustainable fuel use at a price on par with traditional aviation fuels.

 Sarah George

Action inspires action. Stay ahead of the curve with sustainability and energy newsletters from edie