Ruby
 

Virgin Atlantic and LanzaTech sustainable fuel project takes flight

By: Dave Gunner

October 3, 2018

When our Boeing 747-400 G-VROM (Barbarella) pulled onto stand at Gatwick this morning, aviation history was made. The flight from Orlando in Florida was a world first and a landmark step towards making commercially-viable sustainable aviation fuel a reality. The aircraft was flown using LanzaTech jet fuel, the first time this technology had been used on a commercial flight.

Passengers on the historic flight were welcomed by a familiar face on arrival as 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 Freightgrant to determine the feasibility of building a 40-50million US gallon jet fuel plant in Britain.

G-VROM touches down at Gatwick at the end of its historic flight

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% of all), this alone could produce enough fuel to meet around 20% 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% 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.

At a press conference after the flight had arrived at Gatwick, Sir Richard Branson, Founder of Virgin Atlantic 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 drastically reduce our carbon emissions and at the same time, help support UK industry. That’s why we’re so 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.”

Craig Kreeger, CEO at Virgin Atlantic commented:

“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.”

Jennifer Holmgren, CEO at LanzaTech commented:

“Today, with our carbon smart partner, Virgin Atlantic, we have shown that recycling waste carbon emissions into jet fuel is not impossible, that waste carbon needs to be thought as an opportunity not a liability, that carbon can be reused over and over again.  We thank all our partners and governments on both sides of the Atlantic for their support.  Together we can create the carbon future we need.”

The flight was the end result of a lot of hard work by a number of people from across the airline. Special mention to our fuel department, engineering and flight operations teams. The historic flight was operated by Senior Training Captain John Neyland, Senior First Officer Steve Haskins and First Officer Liz Geeves.

Dave Gunner

Dave is the co-editor of Ruby, the Virgin Atlantic Blog. He has worked at Virgin Atlantic for over two decades. In that time he has amassed some truly epic memories but never lost his fascination with the airline world. Dave's on a mission to bring you some great insights into our people, planes and planet.

Categories: Our Future