This week marks ten years since we became the first commercial airline to operate a flight using a sustainable aviation fuel mix – a ground-breaking initiative that proved it was possible to power aircraft with low carbon alternatives. Now, the race is on for the world’s first truly low-carbon, commercially-affordable solution to traditional fossil jet fuel.
A huge amount of progress has been made since 2008, and we’ve continued to lead the charge through our partnership with LanzaTech – a pioneer of technology that can turn industrial waste gases and other plentiful waste streams into sustainable jet fuel.
The partnership is on the verge of a major breakthrough in its aim of creating commercially viable, sustainable aviation fuel and is now calling for the UK government to provide the firm and swift commitment needed to bring this exciting new technology to the UK. Government measures such as critical access to existing low-carbon fuel incentives and de-risking support for a worldwide, first-of-a-kind, commercial plant in the UK will mean LanzaTech can quickly bring the product to market, at a price on a par with traditional jet fuels.
“The industry has come a long way since our first biofuel flight in 2008, and we’re really proud to work alongside the UK government, manufacturers, and industry bodies to maintain the momentum behind sustainable aviation fuel developments,” said our CEO Craig Kreeger. “Since 2011, we’ve partnered closely with LanzaTech to pursue the world’s first low carbon fuel derived from waste products to the market at a commercially viable price. The project is now tantalisingly close to becoming a reality – with the potential to deliver massive carbon savings as well as economic and technological benefits to the UK. Once again, we’re committed to pioneering a low carbon aviation future by becoming the first airline to use LanzaTech fuel on commercial flights.”
The technology will bring wider benefits, including supporting existing low carbon, bioeconomy intellectual property and developments, jobs, international trade, and UK fuel security – all fitting perfectly the UK’s ambitious industrial and clean growth plans.
“The search to find a sustainable aviation fuel has been a long standing challenge for airlines and fuel companies,” said our founder Sir Richard Branson. “In the decade since Virgin Atlantic became the first airline to operate a commercial flight using a biofuel blend, tremendous progress has been made. We have invested in and worked with a number of fuel companies over the years and today we are partnered with LanzaTech because of its impressive sustainability profile and commercial potential. Lanzatech is pioneering technology we couldn’t even imagine ten years ago, and we are now at the critical point where bringing the world’s first commercial, low carbon fuel to market is within touching distance.”
Since 2011, with our ongoing support, LanzaTech has raised $100s millions of investment, secured funding towards five commercial ethanol plants (the first stage in turning waste into jet fuel) and – with help from HSBC and others – has produced the first 4,000 US gallons of ethanol-based, low-carbon jet fuel.
The LanzaTech fuel has also so far performed well under rigorous testing and review processes – required for new fuels to be considered equivalent to or better than fossil jet fuel and be qualified for use on commercial flights. We fully intend to fly this waste-derived ethanol-to-jet fuel as soon as it is qualified for use on commercial flights – and hope that will be later this year.
“The aviation sector’s commitment to achieving a low carbon future is evidenced by its investment in the development of sustainable jet fuel supply chains,” added LanzaTech’s CEO Dr Jennifer Holmgren. “Remarkably, due to this commitment, we have gone from ‘it can’t be done’ to over 100,000 commercial flights on low carbon jet fuel in under 10 years. This is tremendous progress and we are thrilled to partner with Virgin Atlantic, the airline that first showed that synthetic, low carbon jet fuel flight was possible. We look forward to taking our partnership with Virgin Atlantic to the next level with commercial production of synthetic jet from recycled pollution and hope that we are able to jointly realise our ambition of creating a world first production facility in the UK.”