Fri 14 Sept 2018 – Virgin Atlantic will undertake a passenger flight in October using for the first time low-carbon fuel produced through its partnership with LanzaTech. This follows a decision by members of the fuel standards body ASTM in April to include alcohol-to-jet synthetic paraffinic kerosene (ATJ-SPK) produced from ethanol as an approved blending component of conventional jet fuel for commercial flights. The flight is a major step for both LanzaTech and the airline, which first committed seven years ago to developing and commercialising the low-carbon fuel from pioneering technology that captures and recycles carbon-rich industrial waste gases from steel mills into ethanol. The Chicago-based company is now looking to build a first commercial-scale ATJ plant in the UK.
Announcing the flight next month, Virgin Atlantic President Sir Richard Branson wrote in a blog yesterday: “The fuel will be used in one of our much-loved 747s on a flight from Orlando to London Gatwick, demonstrating the art of the possible, and taking a landmark leap towards making this ground-breaking new low-carbon technology a mainstream reality.
“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.
“Because it uses waste carbon, the LanzaTech jet fuel has a fantastic sustainability profile and has the potential to achieve less than 70% lower carbon emissions compared to regular fossil jet, and no land or food competition issues. And because it uses a plentiful, affordable waste stream, this is set to keep the fuel price competitive with that of traditional jet. This means airlines like Virgin Atlantic will be able to buy and fly it routinely, and that is when the big carbon savings will come.”
LanzaTech estimates its process could be retrofitted to 65% of the world’s steel mills, with a potential to produce nearly one fifth of all aviation fuel used each year and at a commercially viable price. The company has a joint venture with a leading iron and steel producer in China, where a demonstration plant has a capability of producing 46,000 tons (16 million gallons) of ethanol per year. LanzaTech has been using technology developed by the US Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) to convert the ethanol into jet fuel.
“We are working with LanzaTech to turn this new fuel into a day-to-day reality, and want to secure the world’s first carbon capture and utilisation commercial jet fuel production facility in the UK,” Branson reported.
The LanzaTech ATJ-SPK does not yet qualify as a conventional waste-based renewable fuel under the UK’s Renewable Transport Fuel Obligation, which provides a valuable financial incentive for suppliers of renewable transport fuels. However, the company is optimistic its jet fuel product will be included in the near future. In July, it was awarded a £410,000 ($540,000) grant from the UK Department for Transport to help with project development funding. The grant will be used towards a feasibility study that will study potential sites in the UK for its first facility.
“We’ve had some great support from the UK government so far. But we now need to turn this into firm government action on incentives and investor commitment, to help us accelerate towards building the world’s first full-size plant producing jet fuel from waste carbon gases,” said Branson.
Virgin Atlantic was the first-ever carrier to use biofuel in a passenger aircraft when a Boeing 747 aircraft undertook a test flight from London Heathrow to Amsterdam in February 2008. One engine of the aircraft was powered by an 80/20 blend of conventional fuel and 500 gallons of a biofuel produced from babassu and coconut oils.
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