Virgin Atlantic To Help Pioneer New Fuel Process

 - October 17, 2011, 2:15 PM
Richard Branson (second from right) joined Virgin Atlantic executives at London’s Battersea Power Station last Wednesday to announce the airline’s participation in a new alternative fuel plan.

Virgin Atlantic last Wednesday announced plans to become the first airline to use a new low-carbon aviation biofuel that leaves just half the carbon footprint of the standard fossil fuel alternative. New Zealand’s LanzaTech plans to produce the new fuel using a process that captures waste gases from industrial steel production, ferments it and chemically converts it for use as a jet fuel, using technology  developed by Swedish Biofuels.

Within three years Virgin Atlantic plans to fly on the new fuel on routes from Shanghai and Delhi to London Heathrow as LanzaTech and partners develop production facilities in China and India. LanzaTech now operates a pilot facility in New Zealand, and plans to build a larger demonstration facility in Shanghai this year. Plans call for the launch of the first commercial operation in China by 2014.

LanzaTech estimates its process can apply to 65 percent of the world’s steel mills, allowing for worldwide commercial use. The energy company believes that the process can also apply to metals processing and chemical industries, expanding its potential considerably further.
Virgin Atlantic has pledged to work with LanzaTech, Boeing and Swedish Biofuels toward achieving the technical approval required for using new fuel types in commercial aircraft. The partners plan a demonstration flight with the new fuel in 12 to 18 months.

“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,” said LanzaTech CEO Jennifer Holmgren.

The technology overcomes the complex land-use issues associated with some earlier generation biofuels, and detailed analysis suggests the fuel will produce around a 45- to 50-percent saving in lifecycle carbon emissions. The Roundtable for Sustainable Biofuels, the leading international body to ensure the sustainability of biofuels production, has agreed to advise the team to ensure the fuel produced meets key environmental, social and economic criteria.

Virgin Atlantic said the development will allow it to more than meet its pledge of a 30-percent carbon reduction per passenger kilometer by 2020. The investment represents a wider program by the airline to cut carbon emissions through the use of more fuel-efficient aircraft and its support of a global carbon cap and trade scheme through its involvement in Aviation Global Deal group.