Virgin Atlantic operates commercial flight partly fuelled by recycled waste

posted on 3rd October 2018 by Justin Burns
Virgin Atlantic operates commercial flight partly fuelled by recycled waste

Today the aviation industry took a landmark step towards making commercially-viable sustainable aviation fuel a reality via a world first flight by Virgin Atlantic and LanzaTech supported by Boeing.

The first batch of LanzaTech jet fuel was used on a commercial flight for the very first time – Virgin Atlantic’s VS16 flight from Orlando to London Gatwick, operated by a Boeing 747 aircraft.

Passengers on the historic flight were welcomed by a familiar face on arrival as the airline’s founder Sir Richard Branson marshalled the aircraft into stand.

This flight follows hot on the heels of a £410K UK government Future Fuels for Flight and Freight grant to determine the feasibility of building a 40-50million US gallon jet fuel plant in Britain.

LanzaTech produces next generation ‘advanced’ fuels by recycling waste industrial gases like those produced from steel making and other heavy industrial processes. LanzaTech takes these waste, carbon-rich gases to first make ethanol.

The ethanol can be used for a range of low carbon products, including jet fuel. The innovative alcohol-to-jet process used to make the fuel in this flight was developed in collaboration with Pacific Northwest National Lab and the US Department of Energy.

Today Virgin Atlantic is calling on the UK government to commit to making this fuel a commercial reality in the UK. Allowing access for new carbon capture and utilisation technologies like LanzaTech’s to incentives already given to earlier generations of ‘biofuels’ and providing critical investor support will enable first plants to be swiftly built.

Without these key next steps this opportunity will no doubt be picked up elsewhere. But with them, LanzaTech says it could have three UK plants running by 2025, producing up to 125 million gallons of sustainable fuel per year – enough to fly all Virgin Atlantic’s UK outbound flights (as a 50:50 mix) while bringing multiple benefits to the UK.

These include: saving nearly 1 million tonnes of life-cycle carbon in a hard-to-decarbonise sector; and supporting a burgeoning bio-economy sector, thousands of clean growth jobs across the supply chain, enhanced fuel security, and providing important trade import and export potential – all benefits the UK desperately needs as we face a post-Brexit Britain.

Further, the LanzaTech approach has huge scale-up potential. If the technology were rolled out worldwide to the world’s eligible steel mills (65 per cent of all), this alone could produce enough fuel to meet around 20 per cent of the current commercial global aviation fuel demand. In addition the technology can be used to efficiently convert other plentiful wastes such as, gases from oil refineries and residues from agricultural processes.

The fuel has a fantastic sustainability profile with at least 70 per cent life cycle carbon savings as well as no land, food or water competition issues and gold-standard sustainability certification.

Crucially, because it’s made from plentiful, affordable waste-streams, the fuel has a fighting chance at coming in at a price on a par with current fossil fuel prices – a truly groundbreaking move that would enable airlines like Virgin Atlantic to achieve the big carbon savings needed.

Virgin Group founder, Sir Richard Branson said: “Long haul travel is more important than ever for connecting people around the world and it’s our responsibility to ensure we’re doing that in the most sustainable way possible. Working with LanzaTech will enable us to greatly reduce our carbon emissions and at the same time, help support UK industry.

That’s why we’re excited to showcase this fuel on its first commercial flight as we plan for the world’s first full scale jet fuel plant using this amazing new technology. The LanzaTech process is important because this fuel takes waste, carbon-rich gases from industrial factories and gives them a second life – so that new fossil fuels don’t have to be taken out of the ground. This flight is a huge step forward in making this new technology a mainstream reality.”

Virgin Atlantic chief executive officer, Craig Kreeger added: “At Virgin Atlantic, we’ve always been committed to reducing our environmental impact and LanzaTech will play a big part in that ambition. Alongside flying more efficient aircraft, sustainable jet fuel is critical to reducing our carbon footprint in the future.

“We’re excited to host this landmark event and are now calling on the UK government to commit to the critical next steps to help bring this next generation sustainable fuel to the UK.”